Weather forecasters call it meteorological winter—the period between the beginning of December and the end of February—but electric cooperative line crews know the first round of snow and ice often comes earlier.
“We always have to be ready for winter storms,” said Casey Hollins, director of communications and public relations for Rappahannock Electric Cooperative. The Fredericksburg, Virginia-based co-op was among dozens of electric cooperatives from the central Plains to the Atlantic Coast reporting weather-related outages Nov. 15, a full week before the Thanksgiving holiday.
Over 6,000 Rappahannock EC members were without power after the storm system, worsened by frigid Canadian winds, dipped deep into the U.S. heartland, dropping temperatures and turning rain into heavy ice and wet snow. The co-op’s territory includes parts of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a heavily forested portion of the central Appalachian range.
Such early storms are a fact of life for co-ops. And as families across the nation turn their attention to visiting relatives and festive dinners, electric co-op operations supervisors are working out which line technicians will be on call for the holidays. Staffers scheduled for time off are prepared to answer their cellphones if their help is needed to restore power.
That commitment extends beyond the co-op’s boundaries, with crews willing to gear up, hit the road and pitch in dozens or hundreds of miles away.
“Our crews know how important it is to provide assistance to our sister co-ops, because sometimes linemen are the only ones who can do the job,” said Austin J. Slater Jr., president of Hughesville, Maryland-based Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative. “They take on the responsibility of making sure customers get their lights back on, whether they are SMECO members or members of another co-op.”
SMECO sent 22 personnel, some line trucks and other equipment from its Chesapeake Bay territory to Front Royal, Virginia, on Nov. 16 to help restore service to about 1,400 members of Rappahannock EC after last week’s winter storm.
Outages related to the same weather system were reported by co-ops in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kentucky, Indiana and Missouri. Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corp., based in Lenoir, North Carolina, reported outages on 5,000 of its meters Nov. 15.
“Co-ops are always ready to respond to outages that disrupt service to our members,” said Rob Roedel, a spokesman for Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp. “We know that having lights and power are important every day, and that includes holidays.”
Derrill Holly is a staff writer at NRECA.