December 27, 2013

CMP says ice storm outages in central Maine could have been worse

Even as power is restored to nearly all customers, a nor’easter is forecast to hit the region late in the weekend.

By Doug Harlow
Staff Writer

The ice storm that left thousands of Central Maine Power Co. customers without electricity this week — some for up to four days, including Christmas — could have been much worse, a company official said Friday.

Ice storm recap

Sunday: A quarter-inch of ice or less, described by Central Maine Power Co. as a “mild icing event” coated area roads and surfaces. Power outages between 2,000 and 4,000.

Monday: Second round of rain and ice began early and continued all day. By 10 p.m., 80,000 CMP customers were without power.

Tuesday: Heavy icing had formed along a band 40 to 50 miles from Auburn to Belfast. The National Weather Service reported 1.2 inches of ice in Augusta. By 10 a.m., 87,000 people were without power.

Wednesday (Christmas Day): By noon, outages were reduced to 50,000.

Thursday: By noon, outages were down to 21,000. An additional 3 inches of snow slowed power restoration efforts.

Friday: By noon, outages were down to 7,500. All customers expected to be restored later that night.

Storm total: Over the course of the storm, 123,000 CMP customers lost power at least once.

Source: Central Maine Power

And with a predicted nor’easter bearing down on the region later this weekend, year-long prevention plans by the state’s largest utility could pay off once again, according to CMP.

“It’s tough just coming off of an outage with 123,000 customers who lost power — it’s tough to say it, but conditions could have been much worse but for a lot of work that we do to maintain the lines over the course of the year,” CMP spokesman John Carroll said Friday.

At the peak of the power outages this past week, CMP coordinated its own crews as well as utility and tree crews from all over the Northeast. On Christmas Day, 1,800 people worked to clear trees and restore power, Carroll said. Of the 455 two-man line crews, 85 of the crews were CMP employees — the rest were contracted to do the work. There also were 330 two-man tree crews working, also coordinated by a CMP command center, Carroll said.

The company said it hoped to have service restored to all accessible buildings and year-round customers by late Friday night.

Carroll said one of the biggest challenges of the massive cleanup during and after an ice storm is housing and feeding all the workers.

“We get them all hotel rooms — we have a standing agreement with all the area hotels — and we get them food,” he said. “Our goal is to either keep them resting or working. We don’t want them driving around, lingering in restaurants, trying to find gas, getting lost.”

Carroll said crews work 17 hours, then rest for seven hours, with select crews working overnight. He said CMP also contracts with trucking and fuel companies to fill up all the trucks parked overnight in hotel parking lots to save time and efficiency. At one point during the storm there were 900 bucket trucks in use, Carroll said.

There also are mobile command units dispatched to remote locations along the CMP service lines with trailers holding materials and work orders needed to continue working, he said.

Carroll said company officials are hoping for warmer temperatures today to melt the ice from tree branches before the next round of winter weather — a predicted nor’easter — Sunday night into Monday.

“What’s unusual about this ice storm is that the ice is really hanging on,” he said. “The prospect of bad weather is more alarming just because the system is so vulnerable with all the trees and all the ice and snow on them. We hope for a warm up to have some of the ice drop off.”

Meteorologist Chris Kimble at the National Weather Service forecast office in Gray said temperatures began rising to near freezing Friday, melting some, but not all of the ice that had built up during the week. The weather service, which records data from Augusta, calculates that temperatures have not been above freezing since Dec. 7 — except for Dec. 20, when it was 34 degrees.

The forecast for today is mostly sunny, with a high near 36.

“With some sun, that’s going to help out as well,” Kimble said. “I would think there would at least be some melting and as the ice melts, I think the trees will be able to start snapping back to their normal form. Here at the office I could hear the trees snapping back with the ice cracking off of them.”

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