Power companies dive into restoration work after winter storm leaves thousands in dark nationwide

Published on February 23, 2023 by Chris Galford

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Following a storm that stretched from the West Coast through the Midwest Wednesday, during which hundreds of thousands lost power in the United States, utility crews are currently working to restore and recover from the damage caused by the sheer scope of ice, snow, and wind.

The Midwest saw the worst of it. In Michigan alone, estimates put customer outages at more than 650,000. According to Consumers Energy’s live outage tracker, just under 3,700 people still have no power as of 11 a.m., down from more than 198,000 outages at the height of the storm, and DTE Energy reported more than 485,000 people still in the dark. Consumers deployed more than 300 crews to begin restoration work as soon as it was safe to do so in the face of 12 hours of ice rain that took out thousands of power lines.

“Our top priority is the safety of our customers and crews, and that is why we’re continuing to closely track this storm as it moves through the state,” Norm Kapala, one of Consumers Energy’s Officers in Charge for the event, said. “We were prepared for this storm and will restore power as quickly and as safely as possible. As the weather worsens and temperatures drop overnight, we’re grateful for the patience and understanding of our customers.”

High winds with gusts of up to 50 miles per hour in places throughout the region, coupled with relentless rain that froze trees, branches and coated lines, and other equipment, are likely to make the recovery process a days-long affair. Crews from other states have spread out to assist where needed.

Indiana Michigan Power (I&M) reported similar effects, though not to the same extent. In its service areas of southwest Michigan and northern Indiana, more than 10,000 customers were hit with outages. The company deployed more than 1,500 personnel to respond, noting that slick roads, treacherous walking conditions, and falling branches could hinder access to equipment while shifting wires and branches, falling debris, hydration, and cold temperatures all could cause a surge of issues for the repair process and safety of workers and customers alike.

Across Lake Michigan, Illinois crews under ComEd worked to restore power to thousands of customers hit by the same storm overnight, particularly in the north and northwest. As of this report, ComEd reported that some 211,500 customers total had lost power over the course of the storm, with more than 79,000 still affected.

“The layer of ice covering trees, roads, and our equipment creates hazards for our crews and can contribute to additional power outages well after the storm has passed,” Terence Donnelly, president and COO of ComEd, said. “We know losing electric service is frustrating, and we thank everyone for their patience as we work safely to repair damaged equipment and get the power flowing again for all of our customers.”

In ComEd’s service territory, the focus is on repairs that will bring back online the greatest number of customers at once, as well as services deemed critical. So far, the company has stressed that things could have been a lot worse – thanks to upgrades and investments in recent years, it has improved overall reliability by more than 80 percent.

Yet the problems stretched as far out as California, where the storm also slammed northern and central parts of the state. According to Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), preparations were in place – including outage prediction models to determine potential timing, location, and number of power outages – but even so, high winds sweeping through the area since Tuesday brought more than 305,000 outages. As of 10 p.m. Wednesday, more than 34,000 reportedly remained without power from the first wave of the storm. According to the National Weather Service, more wind, rain, low-elevation snow, and accumulating snow at higher altitudes are expected to continue through today and Friday, bringing forth the prospect of further threats.

“A prolonged major winter storm will continue to bring widespread heavy snow and blizzard conditions to portions of the West as well as the northern Plains/Great Lakes into Thursday as a series of low pressure waves traverse a front to the south,” the National Weather Service wrote this morning. “Heavy snowfall rates of as much as 1 to 2 inches/hour are expected to combine with winds locally as high as 40 to 50 mph to drive significant impacts that will include major disruptions to travel, infrastructure, livestock, and recreation. This series of low pressure waves that will make up this coast-to-coast winter storm will bring heavy snow and locally significant ice from the Great Lakes into the Northeast, and many of these areas are expected to see an additional 6 to 12 inches of snow, with some amounts perhaps as high as 18 inches. Power outages and areas of tree damage will be possible across these areas, and especially for the locations seeing a combination of stronger winds and accumulating ice.”

A new storm system is already developing.