By Kylee Sapp
Last month’s winter storm was nothing compared to the Ice Storm of 1994. Although the Rockbridge area got between 16 and 20 inches of snowfall from the storm on Jan. 22 and 23, a few inches of ice that accumulated in 1994 did much more damage.
In 1994, more than 2 million people across the country lost power. Many remained without power several days after the storm ended.
Luckily for residents of the Rockbridge area this year, electric companies were more prepared for a snow storm than they were 22 years ago.
In the days leading up to this year’s storm, BARC Electric Cooperative posted an update on its website, warning customers of potential power outages caused by the storm.
However, Manager of Engineering and Operations Jamie Lowry said that there were very few outages caused by the winter storm.
“It was cold enough [that] the snow stayed light and fluffy and didn’t cause any issues,” Lowry said.
Dominion Power reported only one power outage in the Rockbridge area during the storm. BARC Electric reported several.
One of the outages caused by the snowstorm happened in East Lexington. Another happened in Fairfield when Dominion Power had a protective device go bad. Several others were load-related.
Power outages are often caused by wet snow piling up on power lines, causing them to fall.
“Ice is worse,” Lowry said. “A quarter inch of ice would hurt more than a foot of snow.”
This is why the Ice Storm of 1994 caused so much damage.
Although the winter storm is long gone, winter is not over yet. There is still the possibility that Rockbridge County will be hit by another snow or ice storm before spring arrives.
If this does happen, residents should not worry about losing power for a long period of time. Both BARC Electric and Dominion Power are prepared to deal with outages during future snowstorms.
“We’re a member of the Virginia, Maryland and Delaware [Association of Electric Cooperatives],” Lowry said. “They keep us informed of when storms are coming, and we look at the weather ourselves. Co-ops work together so we’re all aware of storms coming and what area of the states they are going to hit.”
BARC Electric always has a two-person team plus a supervisor on call, regardless of whether a storm is expected.
“If a storm is predicted, we will send out additional trucks with as many men as we have trucks for,” Lowry said. “We get our vehicles prepared and stay in communication.”
If a power outage were to occur, people who are affected can call BARC Electric’s after-hours response center.
Dominion Power also monitors the weather conditions and sometimes even sends crews to the areas that are most likely to be affected. In addition, the company staffs offices with patrol and restoration management teams, who attempt to restore power as soon as it is safe for them to work.
“We began preparing for [the snowstorm] at the beginning of the week when the weather track indicated the scope of the storm could have a significant impact on Dominion’s territory,” Dominion Power Senior Communications Specialist Robert Richardson said. “We made sure all of our offices were fully staffed, trucks were gassed up and full of equipment that might be needed in the event of any outages. We began telling our customers to prepare for what could be widespread outages.”
Outages can also be caused by power lines being knocked over by fallen trees, cable failure or traffic accidents.
Dominion Power is ready for any storms that may hit, Richardson said.
“We are well prepared. Ahead of any storm, the preparations begin early,” he said. “We make sure our offices have all the equipment necessary to restore power.”