Return of winter cold could spell trouble for power restoration

Alexander Sinn • Feb 8, 2019 at 7:00 AM

Consumers Energy is in a race against time to restore power to thousands of its West Michigan customers, as two bouts of freezing rain have brought down tree branches and power lines across the region.

Debra Dodd, a spokesperson for the utility company, said about 1,700 power lines were taken down throughout its service territory. As of Thursday afternoon, 7,854 customers in Ottawa County and 15,525 in Muskegon County were still experiencing service interruptions.

Freezing rain is a worst-case weather event for utilities, as every half-inch of ice built up on a power line can add about 500 pounds to it.

A rapid drop in temperatures into Friday, in addition to snow and gusty winds, will likely spell more trouble for restoration efforts. Power for most customers now offline may not be restored until late Sunday, according to Dodd.

The winter weather could exacerbate a restoration effort that has already enlisted help from Kentucky and other states.

“It makes it harder for our crews to do their job,” Dodd said. “It’ll take them more time to get from place to place. It can slow down their restoration efforts.”

Ice and more ice

Wednesday’s rain produced about a quarter- to half-inch of ice in most places, according to Mike Sutton of the National Weather Service office in Grand Rapids. More freezing rain overnight and into Thursday added as much as another quarter-inch, he said.

While temperatures warmed into the upper 30s and 40s Thursday (it reached 45 in Muskegon at about 5 p.m.), winds with gusts up to 40 mph and a rapid fall in temperatures into the teens were expected for today. The forecast for the Grand Haven area called for about 1-2 inches of snow Thursday night, with 2-3 inches more expected Sunday.

Restoring power is the top priority in Ottawa County, according to the county’s Emergency Management director, Nick Bonstell.

“If we don’t get a lot of that power restored today by the time that weather system hits, those outages could be pretty long-term,” he said Thursday.

Ottawa County and the American Red Cross have established an emergency shelter in the northeast region of the county. If you have a long-term power outage and need emergency shelter, call the Ottawa County Central Dispatch nonemergency number: 800-249-0911 or 616-994-7850. 

For those using generators to power their homes, officials say to keep the generator outdoors, as a buildup of carbon monoxide could be deadly.

If you see a downed power line, stay at least 25 feet away from it and call 911.

Flooding is a secondary concern for the county, Bonstell said.

Flooding worries

The Grand River at Robinson Township had crested Thursday at about 12.7 feet, which is less than a half-foot from the 13-foot minor flood stage.

While floodplain communities are not at risk of flooding from rain and melting alone, Bonstell said an ice jam in the river could cause flooding to occur.

A second crest from Thursday’s rain could occur over the weekend, Bonstell said, but widespread flooding is not expected. 

An ice jam on the Grand River caused flooding and evacuations on Wednesday in Portland. An ice jam in Zeeland this week was recognized and removed quickly before major flooding could occur, according to Bonstell. 

For updated information on Consumers Energy’s outages and estimated times of restoration, visit the utility’s web page at www.consumersenergy.com/outagemap.

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