Co-ops From Chesapeake Bay to New England Repairing Tropical Storm Damage

An NOAA satellite image shows Isaias churning up the East Coast on Tuesday. (Photo Courtesy: NOAA)
An NOAA satellite image shows Isaias churning up the East Coast on Tuesday. (Photo Courtesy: NOAA)

Updated: Aug. 5, 2020

Electric cooperatives from Virginia’s Tidewater to New England are busy restoring power to thousands of consumer-members who lost electricity as Tropical Storm Isaias lumbered toward Canada.

“This was a very significant storm, but our crews were well prepared and went to work as soon as it was safe to do so,” said Alan Scruggs, vice president for safety and training services at the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives.

The storm swept inland across Virginia from North Carolina on Tuesday, knocking out electricity to nearly 79,000 meters serving co-op members in the Chesapeake Bay region.

Rainfall amounts of up to 6 inches caused localized flooding and was heavy enough to weaken tree root systems. Winds gusting to 75 mph toppled trees and tossed splintered branches into power lines.

Delaware Electric Cooperative lost more than 30,000 meters, said Lauren Irby, manager of public relations and community outreach for the Greenwood, Delaware, distribution co-op. She described Isaias as “the worst storm we’ve seen in recent memory.”

Co-op crews and contractors reported at least 370 broken poles and trees tangled in power lines across the co-op’s service territory. Restoration work was stalled several times as tornadoes spawned by the storm ripped through some areas.

The Denton, Maryland-based Choptank Electric Cooperative reported more than 18,000 meters out once the storm passed. Co-op officials said damage was so widespread that its outage map “looks a lot like a Candy Crush board.”

Hughesville-based Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative reported hundreds of outages across its system, affecting more than 40,000 meters Tuesday. Repairs continued in many parts of southern Maryland on Wednesday.

“SMECO has more than 230 lineworkers making repairs where trees have fallen and brought down power lines,” said co-op spokesperson Tom Dennison, adding that more crews were expected to join repair efforts Wednesday and Thursday if needed.

Of SMECO’s 24 substation feeders knocked out by Isaias, nine still needed repairs Tuesday evening.

“Our restoration efforts have been hampered by extensive flooding throughout the area that has closed roads, and in some cases, washed out roads completely,” Dennison added.

Damage from Isaias extended well inland across Virginia.

Crews from Fredericksburg-based Rappahannock Electric Cooperative helped personnel from Tasley-based A&N Electric Cooperative restore power to thousands of its members.

Warsaw-based Northern Neck Electric Cooperative reported about 5,900 members without power once the storm pushed north up the Potomac River, but just over 400 members were without service by early Wednesday.

New Jersey’s only electric co-op, Sussex Rural Electric Cooperative, reported 43 major outages affecting numerous meters on its system as Isaias pushed through. Nearly 3,900 of the Sussex-based co-op’s members temporarily lost service. The co-op’s crews, contractors and mutual aid personnel were out making repairs and clearing lines to restore service to about 3,300 meters Wednesday.

The fast-moving storm system still packed tropical storm-force winds as it punched through New England. New Hampshire Electric Cooperative reported more than 37,000 meters out Tuesday night, but crews were working restoration assignments as weather conditions improved. About 21,000 of the Plymouth-based co-op had their power restored by daybreak Wednesday.

“Restoration and assessment efforts are continuing this morning,” said Seth Wheeler, the co-op’s communications administrator, adding that tree damage through some forested rights of way is restricting access to some areas, and many roads in the state remain clogged with debris.

New Hampshire EC crews continue to work on repairs and are also expecting help from neighboring utilities.

Derrill Holly is a staff writer at NRECA.