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Ice could strain power companies
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Ice could strain power companies

Georgia Power prepares response to possible ice storm

Ice could strain power companies

Last month’s two-inch snowfall delivered a knockout punch to Atlanta’s drivers and the city’s image.

Up in the air is whether Tuesday and Wednesday’s predicted mix of sleet, rain, snow and ice will again pummel the area, this time taking out power lines that feed thousands of residents.

Gov. Nathan Deal announced a weather-related state of emergency Monday in 45 north Georgia counties and detailed state and local government officials’ plans for the approaching storm.

The region’s utility companies said they are calling in crews from other regions in preparation for an ice storm that could snap power lines, tree limbs and utility poles, causing massive power outages.

“There’s a potential for catastrophic ice,” Aaron Strickland, Georgia Power’s chief emergency executive, said at a Monday press conference.

The snow that’s forecast for Tuesday morning is expected to turn to rain amid warmer temperatures later in the day, then back to a treacherous mix of of sleet, snow and freezing rain as the thermometer drops Tuesday evening and Wednesday.

The National Weather Service on Monday was forecasting from a tenth to a quarter of an inch of ice. But some meteorologists were expecting up to a half-inch of ice, which could lead to much wider damage and downed power lines.

“Around a quarter inch is where we start getting concerned,” said Kevan Espy, spokesman for Cobb EMC, an electrical cooperative that serves about 175,000 customers on the north side of metro Atlanta. “A lot of our poles could get knocked down.”

To get ready in case it needs to restore power, Espy said, Cobb EMC called in 40 contract employees to beef up its repair crews, he said.

Espy said Cobb EMC also has contacted its neighboring electrical cooperatives to the south, where the winter weather is not expected to be as dire, to borrow more repair crews if needed.

Meanwhile, Georgia Power, the state’s largest electrical utility, has recalled 190 employees that it recently lent to Pennsylvania utilities to deal with their winter damage.

They were expected to be back in Georgia on Tuesday to deal with the expected ice, “which is the worst possible thing for power lines,” said Georgia Power spokeswoman Amy Fink.

“It’s definitely a severe system, and given what happened [with the recent snowstorm], we need to be proactive,” said Fink.

If needed, she said, Georgia Power also will draw on repair crews from Mississippi Power and Gulf Power, its sister companies owned by Atlanta-based Southern Power. Georgia Power also has contacted several southern utility companies for more help, if needed, said Fink.

“Crews from throughout the state are on alert. They will go where they are needed,” she said. “Our goal is to get the power back on as quickly as possible.”

So what should you do if you find yourself in the dark and cold after the ice hits?

Georgia Power customers who still have online access can report outages and monitor when power is expected to be restored at outagemap.gapower.com, said Fink. Customers can also call in outages or downed power lines at 888-891-0938.

“If a line is down, customers need to stay away and contact Georgia Power immediately,” she said.

Espy said customers with generators need to follow safety procedures and have proper wiring before hooking up their equipment, or they could end up feeding deadly voltage back into a power line that a repair crew thinks is a dead line.

“It can cause safety issues for our crews,” he said.

If the predicted weather does shut down the city, it won’t be the first time ice has crippled the area and left many of its residents in the deep freeze.

In January 2000, just before Atlanta hosted the Super Bowl, a winter storm that coated everything with more than a quarter-inch of ice left more than 300,000 homes without power for days. A second ice storm a few days later precipitated a 47-vehicle crash on I-20 near the city.

Atlanta hasn’t hosted a Super Bowl since.

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