HomeNewsOver 300,000 Without Power After Monster Ice Storm

Over 300,000 Without Power After Monster Ice Storm

by TK Sanders
(Photo by Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The incredible ice storm tearing through large swaths of the country this week knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses. A website called PowerOutage.us reported that freezing rain and sleet weighed heavily on power lines. The stormy conditions caused outages most heavily through the Northeast and Midwest.

Local power officials said that while electrical infrastructure is resilient, it cannot always withstand the elements. “The distribution system is engineered to withstand Mother Nature. But, we all know that doesn’t always work,” an official from Kentucky’s Jackson Purchase Energy said in a local interview. “In most cases, a half an inch of ice or less is not a significant event. But, once you pass that point, then we start to have critical failure.”

That little half-inch of ice can add around 300 pounds of weight to power lines stretched between poles. The distance between poles typically spans about 300 feet on average. But the weight doesn’t just accumulate rationally; it multiplies exponentially due to the nature of gravity. In other words, while a half-inch of ice applies 300 pounds of pressure, two inches of ice applies a whopping 2,200 pounds of pressure. No power system can withstand that much weight.

Critical failure then occurs, which means no power, no heat, and no hot water for residents caught in the storm’s wake.

Other Factors That Affect Repairs After an Ice Storm

Weighted-down tree limbs also cause significant secondary damage in the days directly following a major ice storm.

“We’ve seen so much vegetation, tree branches coming down on lines. The ice is no match, really if you get to a quarter of an inch or more on our wires and certainly with snow following it up, that’s expected this evening and throughout the overnight hours,” said Sally Thelen, a spokesperson for Duke Energy. “It’s definitely going to be a long night [that extends] into tomorrow for many of our customers.”

Another issue that plagues power restoration efforts is accessibility. Even relatively easy power line fixes get delayed due to unsafe working conditions for electricians. Often, the power restoration can only occur once the street below has been plowed or thawed so workers can reach the damage.

In preparation for the major storm, dubbed Landon by weather services, many state governors declared states of emergencies. By doing so, local regulators can lift size restrictions for trucks on major highways and roads, which are typically in place for the safety of regular car drivers. Since very few drivers attempt to traverse the icy roads, bigger trucks can more safely navigate the city. These trucks can then bring in heavy or otherwise oversized power equipment for emergency repair jobs.

As of Friday morning, the states with the most reported power outages (in order) are Tennessee, Ohio, New York, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Kentucky.