Public power utilities came to the rescue as Tropical Storm Barry moved through Louisiana over the weekend, leading to swift power restoration in affected areas.
Lafayette Utilities System was one of the public power utilities directly in Barry’s trajectory. The utility had a peak of 1,200 customers without power around 4:00 p.m. on July 13. In all, 5,066 LUS customers, or less than 10% of all customers, were affected during the storm. By July 15, Antonowitsch reported that LUS had returned to “normal operations level.”
The U.S. Department of Energy reported a total of 141,224 electricity outages as of 11:00 a.m., July 14, up from 72,457 outages at 11:00 a.m., July 13. Of the 141,224 outages recorded on July 14, the overwhelming majority - 131,492 - were in Louisiana, followed by 6,467 in Mississippi and 2,256 in Texas. The 24-hour peak of customer outages occurred on July 14 and totaled 186,642 customers in Louisiana without power.
Communities and utilities closer to the Louisiana Coast, where Barry made landfall, were harder hit. In Houma, about 60% of the city or about 8,300 customers were without power. In Morgan City, about 45%, or about 2,800 customers, lost power.
Public power employees from the City of Tallahassee and from Gainesville Regional Utilities arrived in Lafayette, La., on July 12, adding 80 tree-trimmers, mechanics and line workers to the preparation and restoration efforts. The workers left Lafayette Monday morning, heading back to Florida.
“We pre-staged with our mutual aid partners, so we were ahead of the storm which worked out well,” Greg Labbe, electric operations manager with Lafayette Utilities System, said via email.
Last fall when Hurricane Michael hit Florida, Lafayette Utilities System was one of the utilities that responded to a call for assistance from Florida public power utilities.
In addition, the public power utility of Wilson, N.C., sent 14 workers, five bucket trucks and two digger-derrick trucks to help with storm preparations and the recovery effort in St. Martinville, La., southeast of Lafayette. The workers left for Louisiana on July 11 and were released on July 15, according to Kenny Roberts, senior safety and training specialist at ElectriCities of North Carolina, a not-for-profit membership organization of public power utilities in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia.
Two Kentucky-based public power crews went to Plaquemine, La., which is down the Mississippi River from New Orleans. Paducah Power in Kentucky sent a six man crew and Henderson Municipal Power & Light sent a crew of five workers to Plaquemine on Friday July 12. Workers from both utilities were released from storm-related work on July 14, said Chris Burton, operations superintendent for the Princeton Electric Plant Board in Kentucky and one of the state network coordinators for Kentucky.
The storm’s progress
Tropical Storm Barry was briefly upgraded to a Category 1 Hurricane on Saturday, July 13 with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph, heavy rains, and expected storm surges, but weakened to a Tropical Storm later that day after making landfall at Intracoastal City in central Louisiana.
By 11:00 a.m. on Sunday, the storm was 50 miles south-southwest of Shreveport, La., and moving north at 9 mph with maximum sustained winds of 40 mph, according to a DOE bulletin. By Sunday afternoon, July 14, Barry had moved over northwest Louisiana and had degraded to a tropical depression.
By about noon on July 15, Tropical Depression Barry was 70 miles west-northwest of Little Rock, Ark., and moving north at 12 mph with maximum sustained winds of 25 mph, according to the DOE.
Barry is expected to continue north before shifting to a northeasterly course motion on July 16 and is expected to continue to produce heavy rain across portions of the Mississippi Valley.