TODAY | November 01, 2012
>>> is the third straight day for no electricity for millions of americans impacted by this storm. in fact, it's the third storm in just a year that seems to have crippled the northeast power system. nbc's harry smith takes a closer look at that story for "rock center with brian williams ."
>> good morning, guys. first it was hurricane irene , then last october's freak snowstorm, and now sandy. mother nature has put an unprecedented strain on the power grid and some experts are wondering if climate change is to blame. the images from across the eastern third of the nation are still a little difficult to comprehend. but for millions of americans, they are all too real. lines down, nerves frayed, power out. monday night, new york city was on edge, and con-ed the city's electrical supplier was gearing up for the worst. the man at the center of the storm, senior vice president.
>> they are forecasted somewhere between 11 to 12 feet peak, and that would be the highest tide the city has ever seen.
>> reporter: by 8:00, he had decided he had no choice but to shut down power to lower manhattan . high water was about to inundate underground power supplies . so high, it caused an explosion at a con-ed substation. today, people like the schmidt family have to take the stairs, 13 flights to get to their apartment.
>> i was in my daughter's bedroom and just staring out at the building across the street in great envy watching the lights there.
>> reporter: 8.5 million households and businesses lost power in 19 states, and today, over 6 million are still waiting for the lights to go back on. sandy's relentless wind, rain, and storm surge laid the power grid to ruin. and there is a growing consensus that this is all part of a new normal.
>> anyone who says there's not a dramatic change in weather patterns i think is denying reality.
>> many climate scientists say there is a reason this is happening.
>> we're seeing more and more extreme weather events . leading to greater and greater economic damages. and i'm very suspicious that climate change is an important player for many of these.
>> reporter: whatever the reason, these storms put the power grid at risk. and for the time being , massive power outages are an inevitable reality.
>> in your view, not science, just your gut, are we living in a time unlike times of the past?
>> the simple answer is absolutely. i've never seen anything like this. i mean, we're having an annual storm of the century . it is just crazy.
>> i spoke with an official at the electric powers research institute . he said building a power grid that could withstand these kinds of storms is just not economically feasible. so how best to deal with these changes remains to be seen.
>> go back to those numbers for a second. he predicted a surge of 11 1/2 feet.
>> which would have been the highest ever, it was closer to 14. and there's a piece in the paper trying to figure out is it climate change what's going on? the temperature in the western atlantic , 5 degrees above normal for the end of october. there's something going on.
>> harry smith . and by the way, harry's going to have more on a special "rock center with brian williams " tonight 10:00 /9:00 central right here on nbc.