Fallout from winter storm Frida | News
By Becca Pizmoht / Madison Eagle Staff Writer
Central Virginians celebrated the holiday amid the spring temperatures of the ’60s and’ 70s. But the unusually warm week ended abruptly with a snowstorm last Monday that brought 10 to 16 inches of heavy, wet snow. In the region.
The volume of snow smashed trees and branches, sending them through roads and power lines and creating travel headaches as well as extensive blackouts.
Local electricity providers Rappahannock Electric Cooperative and Dominion Energy reported that more than 300,000 regional customers lost power as a result of the storm. A week after the first major storm of the season, most of the outages had been resolved, but it was a worrying week for many.
Dubbed Winter Storm Frida, the rapid storm on January 3 knocked down trees and utility lines, crippling much of Greene, Madison and Orange counties for the week. Widespread power outages have shut down businesses and prompted communities to open heated shelters at local fire stations.
Virginia Department of Transportation employees worked around the clock to open major highways by Tuesday, but were hampered by the thousands of trees and downed utility lines in the Culpeper district, made up of nine counties. While Highways 64 and 66 were clear, major highways like US Route 15, US 33 and Route 20 were still in good condition Tuesday morning with patches of ice and slush and back roads in the eastern part of the county. Orange were intact until Wednesday, just before an additional 2 to 5 inches of snow fell in the area. Maintenance crews sprinkled brine on the roads in the area to keep them clear.
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According to REC and Dominion Energy, the impact of the storm on the electricity grid was significant.
“The damage that winter storm Frida left behind is historic in terms of the damage it inflicted on the power grid,” said Casey Hollins, general manager of communications and public relations for REC.
“We appreciate the patience of customers as our teams work to repair areas damaged by fallen trees and power lines,” said Charlene Whitfield, senior vice president of power supply for Dominion Energy Virginia. “The safety of our customers and crews is our number one priority, and we will continue to work around the clock until we have restored service to every customer. “
Patience was scarce Thursday, especially among Dominion Energy customers. The Dominion’s website gave confusing and often contradictory information. Customers checked outage maps and called the hotline to inquire about the status of their outage and received no or incomplete information. Often crews would be dispatched to repair a line and could not get to the problem until the trees were cleared from the roadway. Other crews repaired damaged lines only to see further damage.
Dominion’s weather estimates are based on a formula that takes into account the nature of the storm, the level of damage, the number of crews and trucks in the area, and the number of breakdowns. For customers left in the dark, the frustration was great.
“Estimates were for our electricity to be back on Tuesday night,” said Miloh Johnson, a Gordonsville resident. “Wednesday morning came and nothing. Later on Wednesday we were teased by the blinking several times before it was fully restored.
REC has improved its fault map to more accurately display the current fault locations and added a recovery time estimate where possible. As of Saturday evening, the majority of Dominion and REC customers in the area have been reinstated.
“We know this blackout is frustrating – almost a week is a very long time without power,” REC’s Hollins said.
Both companies called in outside teams to help deal with the scale of the damage. Workers from across the south came to help Dominion and REC deal with the aftermath of Frida.
Wesley Watkins, a lineman with Sumpter Utilities in South Carolina, was part of a crew working in western Orange County on Friday. Sumpter Utilities sent eight crews and trucks north to assist local linemen. Watkins and his colleagues were surprised at the extent of the damage.
“We have been working since we got here and expect to be here for at least three more days,” he said. “We can’t work on the lines until the trees are moved and the roads clear. It has been slow. Once you’ve fixed one problem, you often find another.
Both utility providers are encouraging customers to be safety conscious and stressed that people should not touch or drive on broken power lines. For customers using portable generators, they warn against refueling a running generator and remind users that generators should not be used in closed areas. Generator exhaust produces poisonous carbon monoxide which can kill people and animals in areas without adequate ventilation.
With prolonged power outages coupled with low temperatures, communities have opened warming centers for citizens to find some relief.
Madison County has declared a local state of emergency and the Madison County Volunteer Fire Department has opened its doors to residents of the county in need of a place to warm up. More than 48% of Madison County had no electricity on Tuesday when temperatures plummeted among teens. Orange County has also opened warm-up centers at the Gordonsville Fire Department and Locust Grove Elementary School.
According to Madison Fire Chief Troy Coppage, the process went well.
“Everything went well,” he said. “County supervisors moved quickly to declare a state of emergency and we were able to use our space as a warming center run by County Social Services. “
For the few restaurants and shops that remained open on Monday, business was good but customers often had to wait much longer due to staff issues. For Orange resident Bethany Kilby, a quick trip to order pizza for her family has become an epic adventure.
“I went out for pizza on Monday,” Kilby said. “Pizza Hut was really understaffed and very busy because so many people did not have electricity. I waited 45 minutes for a pizza, much longer than usual.
Motels in the area have also seen an increase in business with local residents without electricity choosing to check in to avoid the cold and out of town crews staying put to help with power grid repairs. .
Following a second snowfall on the weekend, grocery stores in the area were largely devoid of breads and prepared foods, as many did not have clean electrical shelves for meals. requiring no electricity.