Snow knocks out power for thousands in county

Published 10:40 am Tuesday, November 4, 2014

NW1104 Snow Power Line Repair

Trees filled with colorful fall foliage and inches of heavy, wet snow rarely meet, but when they do, it is the recipe for darkness.
Elizabethton Electric Department crews, with help from a few other utilities, worked nonstop this weekend to restore power to 6,000 customers who found themselves in the dark after an early snowstorm.
EED General Manager Rob Toney said most of the customers had their power restored by early Sunday morning with all power turned back on by Sunday evening.
Outages were found mostly in the Stoney Creek, Siam and Hampton communities, but were also reported in Milligan and in the city limits.
“Ninety-five percent of the outages were associated with trees,” Toney said. “Either a limb fell on the line, a tree fell on the line or a tree knocked the lines down. When you get heavy snow with foliage still on the trees, the leaves just collect that. It either bends the limbs further and further over until they reach the line, or the limbs break and then it lands on the line.”
Outages started being reported at 7:15 a.m. on Saturday. He said once the main feeder lines were hit with trees or limbs, the outages started “rolling” in. For example, when a main feeder was tripped in the Milligan community, nearly 1,300 customers found themselves without power all at once.
“Once we got that taken care of, we had that outage cleared pretty quickly,” Toney said.
Then, within 15 minutes of the Milligan outages, Toney said main feeders in Stoney Creek and Hampton were tripped resulting in large outages for the rest of the affected areas.
Because so many customers were affected all at once, the EED’s report lines were overwhelmed by the call volume. Toney said the department has 23 incoming lines, but with hundreds of calls coming in at once, the department was swamped.
“It is hard for people to get through sometimes,” Toney said. “We do try to answer all the calls, but with so many at once, we can’t get to them all. We answer as many as we can.”
Once the scale of the outage was known, Toney said all EED power crews were out on the road making repairs.
Four-man teams were broken into two-men teams so repairs could be made more quickly, and all contracted tree trimming teams were called in to help. Two power crews from Greeneville and one from Oak Ridge were also recruited to assist with getting the electricity back to customers.
“I’m proud of how the guys responded,” Toney said. “The crews worked right on through to get the power restored as fast as they could.”
But even with the extra crews on the ground to help, some customers found themselves without power for multiple hours.
Toney explained there is a process the EED crews follow to make sure power is restored as efficiently as possible. First working to make sure the main feeder lines to and from substations are clear and without damage, they move on to the tap lines that join into the main lines and the feeder lines from there.
“We have to follow the lines out,” he said. “If we went out and made a repair, but there was damage down the line between where the crews were working and the substation, when we turned the power back it would blow out the repair the crews had just made.”
While the crews know where power is out, Toney said the crews don’t know what kind of damage they will encounter until they get to the work site.
“We just take it as we get to it,” he said.
The EED recently started a focus on tree trimming to help clear the area around the power lines, but Toney said even with the extra preparation there wasn’t much the department could do with this weather combination.
“We were prepared and we had everything we needed, but everything hit at once and everyone went out at the same time,” he said. “With Mother Nature, you can’t really tell. Preparation is good, but it is not always ironclad.”
If the temperatures had been colder, and the snow would have been drier, Toney said it is likely the damage wouldn’t have been as bad.
“When the temperature is between 32-36 degrees, that is a heavy wet snow,” he said. “Trees can’t handle the weight of the snow as it piles up on the foliage.”
For the future, the EED will continue focusing on trimming trees along the power lines.
“Trees and animals are the reasons for most power outages,” Toney said. “We can’t control the animals but we can sometimes do something about the trees.”
He also noted EED has a Twitter feed where updates are posted when staff members are available during outages. The EED also has an email,, where outages can be reported. In addition to the address of the outage area, Toney asks customers to include a phone number so the EED can contact the customer to see if power has been restored.

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