Disaster Response

Public power taps mutual aid to tackle outages caused by heavy winds

Public power utilities recently set mutual aid efforts in motion in the wake of turbulent weather conditions at the end of February that included strong winds, a blizzard and a tornado that caused power outages in parts of the Midwest, the Northeast and the South.

Public power utilities not only helped one another, but also offered assistance to a cooperative in Michigan.

The Midwest and Northeast were hit hard by a strong storm system over the weekend of Feb. 23-24, knocking out power to hundreds of thousands of customers in the regions. 

According to Accuweather, on the evening of Saturday, Feb. 23, wind gusts exceeded 65 mph in St. Louis, Mo., “toppling trees and resulting in tens of thousands of power outages.” On the night of Sunday, Feb. 24, winds gusted to 62 mph in Altoona, Pa., Accuweather reported. On Feb. 24, the Cleveland Hopkins Airport recorded a 67-mph wind gust, Accuweather said.

Midwest

Among the states hit was Ohio, where AMP, a joint action agency, is based.  AMP has a total of 135 members: 134 member-communities in Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia, and one joint action agency in Delaware.

In a Feb. 25 tweet, AMP thanked crews from the cities of Bowling Green and Oberlin, Ohio “for answering the call for mutual aid following the last few days of heavy winds in the region!” Bowling Green and Oberlin are both members of AMP.

Holly Karg, AMP’s Director of Media Relations and Communications, noted that AMP’s mutual aid program participants are divided geographically into sectors and each sector has a volunteer coordinator. AMP oversees the program and assists in finding aid when needed. 

AMP, through its Circuit Rider program, requested aid from Bowling Green for Bloomdale, Ohio. Plymouth, Ohio, requested aid through its sector coordinator and Oberlin was available to provide aid. 

In addition, AMP followed up to ensure that all work was completed and checked with members to ensure that additional help wasn’t needed to restore power, Karg noted in an Feb. 25 email.

When asked whether any other AMP members provided crews in response calls for mutual aid, Karg said that while several AMP members have experienced outages, Bloomdale and Plymouth were the only systems “we’re aware of that requested mutual aid.” 

Public power utilities assist cooperative in Michigan

Meanwhile, several public power utilities in Michigan – Traverse City Light & Power, the Marquette Board of Light & Power and the City of Escanaba – sent mutual aid crews to assist crews from Cloverland Electric Cooperative restore power after a snow storm and high winds hit the cooperative’s service territory, knocking out power to customers in Sault Ste. Marie, Brevort and Cedarville.

Cloverland Electric Cooperative is located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and delivers electricity to approximately 42,000 accounts in Chippewa, Delta, Mackinac, Luce, and Schoolcraft Counties.

The Marquette Board of Light and Power noted on its website that it answered a call for mutual aid help from Cloverland Electric Cooperative following a blizzard that started the morning of February 24 with winds clocked at 79 miles per hour causing more than 6,000 power outages in Cloverland’s service territory.  

Marquette Board of Light and Power said its Journey Line Electricians Drew Ahonen and Shawn Sheldon travelled to the Newberry/McMillan area in the eastern Upper Peninsula the afternoon of February 25. They returned safely to Marquette Board of Light and Power on Feb. 26.

Rodney Solak, line superintendent at Traverse City Light & Power, noted that Traverse City Light & Power’s crews were released within 24 hours.

With respect to outages affecting Traverse City, Solak said that approximately 250 out of its 12,500 customers were without power as a result of the recent high winds that hit Michigan.

Solak noted that Traverse City was hit with rain just prior to snow and winds that brought some limbs down. The utility had two crews out for about six hours. All power has been restored to Traverse City Light & Power customers.

Northeast

Scott Edwards, mutual aid director at the Northeast Public Power Association (NEPPA), said that the recent wind event affected most of the NEPPA members, “but we only had two requests for mutual aid.”

In an email sent to Public Power Daily, Edwards said that Littleton Electric and Westfield Electric, public power utilities in Massachusetts and NEPPA members, each requested three line crews. The requests were filled within hours, he noted. As of the evening of Feb. 26, all the mutual aid line crews had been sent home.

Wind gusts from this storm were between 60-70 miles per hour in most of New England, but large scale outages were limited, Edwards said. “These type of wind events are not too bad in the winter with the ground frozen,” he noted in the email.  He said that October 2017 and 2018 wind storms caused much more damage with soft ground conditions causing trees to uproot.

Tornado hits Columbus, Mississippi

Meanwhile, several tornados touched down in the South including the public power city of Columbus, Mississippi, causing severe damage in their wake.

“A line of strong thunderstorms spawned several tornadoes in the South Saturday, including one that killed a person and caused significant damage in Columbus, Mississippi,” The Weather Channel reported on its website. According to Accuweather, the tornado that hit Columbus reached EF3 intensity.

The city’s public power utility Columbus Light & Water posted a message on its Facebook page on the evening of Saturday, Feb. 23 reporting that there were multiple outages throughout Columbus.

On Feb. 24, Columbus Light & Water reported that it had around 1,000 customers without power. “Over 50 linemen and apprentices are working to restore power to the city by working out from the substations,” the utility said at the time.

The utility’s power restoration efforts were boosted through mutual aid assistance, with line crews helping from the following Mississippi public power cities: Amory, Starkville, Tupelo, Louisville, Aberdeen and West Point.

On Feb. 25, Columbus Light & Water provided an update, noting that it had less than 500 customers without power and 100-150 of those were damaged to the point that the utility could not connect them.

By the evening of Feb. 26, Columbus Light & Water reported that nearly all of Columbus “is back on, with roughly 250 customers without power. These are clustered in the areas impacted the most by the storm.”

As of Feb. 27, the utility was focused on going house to house in the immediate impact zone.

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