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1 Million People Without Power Due To Ice Storm

Natural disasters inclement weather Ice Storm 2009

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#1 Vapor Trails

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Posted 28 January 2009 - 10:29 PM



LITTLE ROCK, Ark. Well over a million people shivered in ice-bound homes across the country Wednesday, waiting for warmer weather and for utility crews to restring power lines brought down by a storm that killed 23 as it took a snowy, icy journey from the Southern Plains to the East Coast. But with temperatures plunging, utility officials warned that it could be mid-February before electricity is restored to some of the hardest-hit places. The worst of the power failures were in Kentucky, Arkansas and Ohio.

Just getting to their source was difficult for utility crews. Ice-encrusted tree limbs and power lines blocked glazed roads, and cracking limbs pierced the air like popping gunfire as they snapped.

In Kentucky, National Guard soldiers were dispatched to remove the debris. Oklahoma, already struggling to restore power there, planned to send crews to help in Arkansas later in the week.

"It looks like a tornado came through, but there wasn't a path; it was everywhere," said Mel Coleman, the chief executive officer of the North Arkansas Electric Cooperative in Salem. The power is out at his house, too, and he spent Tuesday night in a chair at his office.

The storm was "worse than we ever imagined," he said.

In Arkansas where ice was 3 inches thick in some places people huddled next to fireplaces, wood-burning stoves and portable heaters powered by generators. When it got too cold, they left for shelters or relatives' homes that weren't hit as badly.

"We bundled up together on a bed with four blankets. It's freezing," said Pearl Schmidt of Paintsville, in eastern Kentucky. Her family endured 32-degree weather Wednesday morning before leaving their house for a shelter.

Kyle Brashears' family rode out the storm in their Mountain Home, Ark., home before fleeing to relatives after half an ice-caked oak tree fell into their home.

"It caved the roof in and ripped the gutter off, although it didn't penetrate inside," he said. "I was walking around outside until about 1 a.m. and it was just a nonstop medley of tree limbs cracking off."

The number of homes and businesses without power totaled around 1.4 million Wednesday evening, in a swath of states from Oklahoma to West Virginia. Arkansas had more than 350,000 customers in the dark; Kentucky had about a half-million. The actual number of people affected the power failures could be much higher.

In Kentucky, the power outages produced by the ice storm were outdone only by the remnants of Hurricane Ike, which lashed the state with fierce winds last year, leaving about 600,000 customers without power. Gov. Steve Beshear said he was seeking a federal emergency disaster declaration, a key step in securing federal assitance for storm victims.

"We've got lots of counties that do not have any communication, any heat, any power," he said.

Various charities opened shelters across the region, but with the power out nearly everywhere including at some radio stations it was difficult to spread the word. Some deputies went door to door and offered to drive the elderly to safety.

Uh-oh. :(
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#2 Shalamar


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Posted 28 January 2009 - 10:32 PM

These are the worst sort of power outages to try and restore, unlike even the worst storm caused ones, because a storm hits then goes. Ice and cold like this lingers and you fix it once and the lines just get hit again when more ice laden trees etc fall on the repairs and take them down.
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#3 Mooky



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Posted 28 January 2009 - 10:40 PM

Frak!  Now I feel really guilty over my selfishness when Katrina knocked out our water and power for a month.

#4 szhismine


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Posted 28 January 2009 - 11:46 PM

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#5 D'Monix

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Posted 29 January 2009 - 02:24 AM

I slid to work on a nice coating of global warming last night and tonight here in Oklahoma.

And I envy the people who just get snow, because I will take snow over ice storms and day of the week.

#6 FnlPrblm

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Posted 29 January 2009 - 11:02 AM

me too (which is what we got, well mixed in with a couple hours of freezing rain before and after the snow [which fell for 2 1/2 days]).  Thankfully, the borderline was just to the south this time.  Two years ago (nearly to the day I think), Saint Louis got nailed by a similar storm which knocked out power to a million, not once, but twice (about a month apart [Jan/Feb 07]).  Flat out...that sucked.  :p  Spent just under a week in sub freezing temps in the teens (and no fireplace) before power was restored, the first go around.  The second time (same conditions), we abandoned the house for a family member's who was uneffected.  So I feel very much for those of you in that freezing rain/sleet zone.
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#7 The Tyrant

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Posted 29 January 2009 - 04:28 PM

Someone remind me again why phone lines are buried but power lines aren't...

#8 Shalamar


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Posted 29 January 2009 - 05:15 PM

Most phone lines are not, just as most cable lines are not- the cost is incredible, and to make repairs in the event of damage / outage - the cost is far higher than finding and fixing the above ground ones.

Additionally electrical wires are hot - I mean temperature wise - radiating heat. They have to be burried in special caseings which further add to the cost of burying them.

Even here in the southern/ gulf coast parts of Texas which seldom has the ground freezing you have to bury them past a certain depth. Where you have the chance of regtular freezing of the soil you'd have to burry them even deeper. And digging through frozen soil after getting though several feet of snow or ice? Not quick to do, and not really doable without machinery.
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#9 Broph

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Posted 29 January 2009 - 11:02 PM

View PostShalamar, on Jan 29 2009, 10:15 PM, said:

and to make repairs in the event of damage / outage

Isn't that the thing, though? Bury them and the chance of damage is greatly reduced?

BTW, I just lost power for 30 seconds while I was typing this. Freaky.

#10 Shalamar


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Posted 29 January 2009 - 11:19 PM

Well it reduces some types of damage, but  not all -the shifting of the ground during freeze/ thaw cycles, water getting into the conduits, wires melting / faulting, tree and plant roots growing into the conduits ( yes this does happen ), burrowing animals doing the same...
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#11 Shoshana

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Posted 30 January 2009 - 02:35 PM

Growing up we went through several bad ice storms. 2 had us without power for a week or more. I really feel for those people.

In Dallas and Austin, the city hires crews to cut back trees near power lines all during the year to avoid trees damaging power lines during ice storms. Lots of times the crews leave behind ugly trees that get owners screaming, but they don't drop limbs on the transmission lines. Smart owners hire people to cut their own trees back so the city won't mutilate them.

It has really helped - since they started doing that power outages from falling trees have become more rare. Of course in the kind of ice storm that just went thru, trees and transformers get covered in ice and just plain explode.

Here we had a weird thing happen when the ice storm came thru - it has been so dry here (third worst drought ever recorded) that blowing dust got into some transformers. When it rained the dirt turned to mud and shorted out the transformers.

A lot of new subdivisions have underground utilities - ours does. Underground power, phone, cable. We only lose power when construction crews sever a line or when a big main transmission line goes out. So far we've had one big outage - for 6 hours. That was a construction break.

People in older neighborhoods want buried utilities too but the city said it's much too expensive to do that after the neighborhoods are built.

#12 Themis

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Posted 30 January 2009 - 02:48 PM

Apparently a lot of folk in Kentucky are coming down to Tennessee to motels, shelters, relatives, etc.

There was an ice storm when I first moved to town that shut down power; hasn't happened since, but you never know.  We get the tree triming and angry homeowners but haven't had nearly the number of short outages we did have.  Still, a lot of power lines go through rural and unincorporated areas so trouble still happens.  

I kept thinking that power lines ought to be underground, but Shal's explanation makes sense.

Meanwhile, I sure wish the neighbor would get around to cutting down the hollowed-out tree that could fall on my house!
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