On Sunday evening, every electric distribution company’s (and every line worker’s) worst nightmare began to unfold before our eyes, with significant ice accumulation building on UCEMC’s nearly 5,000 miles of line and other equipment. Ice is far more dreaded than snow because of its weight. Ice doesn’t “shed” itself off our equipment like snow does until it eventually thaws. This unusual ice storm had a disastrous effect on our system because the ice accumulations we received exceeded our design standard set by the Rural Utilities Services and the National Electrical Safety Code.
The ice indeed had its way when it came to our equipment. Poles, wires, and cross arms standards are designed to withstand medium load ratings for up to ¼ inch of ice. The extreme weather event that moved into our area on Monday layered on 1 ½ to 2 inches of freezing rain, ice, and snow, late Wednesday and Thursday resulting in more ice and another 4-6 inches of snow with five straight days of freezing temperatures. Cross arms, poles, and lines had far more stress on them than they were designed to withhold, causing them to weaken or break. As if that’s not enough trouble, trees and limbs began to fall on already weakened lines and lay them to the ground causing electrical faults. Even on well-maintained ROW, trees outside the 40-foot Right-of-Way clearance area uprooted and collapsed our infrastructure.
But, now, we are experiencing a thaw across the region that offers some relief. Repairs made now are more sustainable because a load of ice and snow on them is gone or lessening. Unfortunately, we can probably expect a few more days of tree limbs breaking and falling. The thaw will also produce wet soil, further weakening some tree's roots, causing them to fall. But now, the news we’ve all been waiting for: more often than not, repairs made to the main lines will stick, and we will be able to restore other members served by feeder lines from there. If you are still experiencing an outage and you can see that all of your neighbors are on, please go to the REPORT OUTAGE tab, click on your district office, fill out the brief form, and send it in. It's important that we know about every outage and what the problems might be at your home.