TRINITY, Ala. (WHNT) – The snow began to fall Wednesday afternoon, but as of late Friday afternoon, some people still didn’t have any power. Managers with the Joe Wheeler Electric Co-Op in Lawrence County say the snow didn’t take them by surprise, but the effects of the snow did.
At last report Friday evening, around 6PM, there were still 31 homes without electricity in Lawrence County. But that’s down from a high Friday morning of around 600 customers. We learned almost a third of Joe Wheeler’s 33-thousand customers were without power at some point over the last couple of days.
“This snow was different,” says George Kitchens, the General Manager of Joe Wheeler EMC. He says, “It was heavy and accumulated really badly on our power lines and tree limbs and everything of that sort.”
Kitchens says the problems were spread all across their coverage area. He says literally hundreds of fuses along the grid were tripped as the snow caused lines to sag against each other and short out. In some cases the weight of the snow on longer lines caused poles to snap under the weight, plunging entire neighborhoods into darkness.
Kitchens explained, “The difference with this storm is the damage was almost on an individual basis. In thunderstorm type things, when you have a tree go all the way through a power line or something, you might be able to make that one repair and restore power to 500 customers at one time. This storm, you make a repair and you may have fixed it for 2 or 3 customers.” With so many repairs to make in so many different locations, he says that’s why it has taken so long to get everyone back on line.
Kitchens says over the life of this event, as many as 10,000 of their customers had been affected, some for only a few hours. But others spent almost 48 hours in the dark and Kitchens says they simply didn’t anticipate the type of damage that occurred.
“Our outage numbers were bouncing around throughout the day yesterday and Wednesday night as well. So we didn’t know for sure how many, how bad it was ourselves even.”
Kitchens says once they realized what was happening, the call for help went out to other electric utilities. Linemen from Decatur, Hartselle, Guin, Montgomery and Demopolis all responded to help restore the power.
To compound the problem, Kitchens says their telephone system was overwhelmed by the sheer number of callers trying to get through to report outages. “When ten thousand people are trying to call in, it gets overwhelmed pretty quick,” Kitchens told WHNT News 19.
By Friday evening as rain began to fall across Lawrence County, a spokesperson for Joe Wheeler reported the outage had been reduced to 31 customers still without power. Crews will remain on the job Friday night until electricity for all of their customers has been restored.
UPDATE: A spokesperson says the last customer was brought back on-line around 8PM Friday night. All power has been restored.