Severe Weather in the Volunteer Energy Service Area
A severe weather alert was issued by the U.S. National Weather Service in Morristown, Tennessee, for Volunteer Energy Cooperative’s (VEC) service area June 21. At an enhanced risk for severe weather, much of our service area had 70 mph straight-line winds and a couple of our counties experienced an EF-1 tornado with 90mph winds. This system, while moving quickly, caused damage in 15 of the 17 counties we serve. All available linemen were called in as well as multiple ROW crews and contact center personnel to handle the calls. Initially, much of the damage was obvious; trees down, powerlines on the ground, blown switches and transformers, lightning damage and even one substation down. VEC had over 20,000 members without power.
As initial damage assessments came in, power was redirected and we were able to get the substation back in operation. As they continued to find damage, the decision was made to call in contract crews. We didn’t ask for help from neighboring coops because the ones that border our service area were battling their own outages. Crews worked through the night and began repairs that would eventually take more than 36 hours.
During this time, crews worked in pouring rain, lightning and even in one circumstance on a fire. There were 29 broken poles and miles of downed power lines to be replaced. Trees had to be removed from roads to reach the damage and special equipment was brought in to reach broken poles in saturated fields that would not hold a bucket truck.
In a large outage with widespread damage, our crews work to restore service safely to the greatest number of members in the shortest amount of time. First, if we have substation damage, we inspect and repair any damage found. Second crews work on the main distribution lines. These lines carry power to large groups of members, which include subdivisions and housing developments etc. Thirdly if there are still outages, linemen look to supply or tap lines. These lines deliver power to transformers, either mounted on poles or on pads for underground service. At this point, if there are still members without power, they go location by location. It is essential to report every outage. If you see everyone in the neighborhood’s power restored, but your electricity does not come on, report your outage again. This will help determine that there is still an issue at your specific service location.
While severe weather is challenging for our entire service area, there are some things you can do ahead of time to help prepare.
Before the storm: Prepare a thunderstorm/power outage kit that includes
- Canned/packaged food
- A manual can opener
- Fresh bottled water
- Battery-operated radio
- Flashlight with new batteries as well as extra batteries
- Charged backup battery for cell phones
During the thunderstorm practice safety:
- Get inside a sturdy building and stay away from windows.
- Stay away from water and plumbing. Water is a great conductor of electricity and lightning can travel through plumbing and water sources.
- Avoid contact with corded appliances. Anything with a cord can conduct electricity in a lightning strike.
- Don’t take shelter under trees. Tall objects attract lightning. Additionally, wind and lightning may cause trees or branches to fall.
During a power outage:
- Immediately report power loss to VEC using your cellphone or the SmartHub app if the phone lines are busy. Do not report on Social Media including Facebook. Facebook is not connected to our outage management system and is not monitored 24/7.
- Do not touch downed powerlines. Call 911 or VEC to ensure the line is turned off so repairs can be made.
- Avoid opening your refrigerator and /or freezer. The food will stay fresher longer if the door is kept shut.
- Use battery-powered flashlights rather than candles to avoid the threat of fire.
VEC works very hard to maintain the power grid, including clearing the ROW, power pole inspections, and preventative maintenance throughout the year. While these practices are essential in reducing outage time, severe weather damage is unpredictable.