March is an unpredictable month on the East Coast. On March 1, 2009, a massive late-winter storm deposited heavy snowfalls from North Carolina to New Hampshire. Virginia, which expects more gentle weather at that time of year, was hit particularly hard with 10 to 12 inches. The storm wreaked havoc on the electric grid and called for emergency crews to restore power, working around the clock.
Dominion Virginia Power had approximately 250,000 outages, mostly in the central region of the state, with more than half in the Richmond metro area. Most outages were caused by trees and tree limbs brought down on lines from the heavy snow.
Dominion’s staff meteorologist tracked the oncoming storm and the utility mounted a media blitz.
“When we expect outages, we issue news releases and urge the media to remind customers that if they see a downed line to treat it as if it were live. Don’t go near it, and report it to our toll-free number. We also asked customers without power to call us and report it, even though they think neighbors have done so,” said Karl Neddenien, Dominion’s spokesman.
As the storm approached, Dominion implemented a comprehensive emergency plan. It gave a one-day notice to crews and sub-contractors to be available. In some cases, crews were told to stay home, get rest and pack up so that crews from less-affected areas could be sent to areas needing help.
“We were able to send crews from our northern and eastern region to help out in the central region, where we were hit hardest,” Neddenien said.
To augment its staff, Dominion alerted contracted tree companies and lineworker crews to standby.
“Our tree-trimming contractors were particularly important because we can’t repair wires if a limb is touching them,” Neddenien said.
Through a mutual assistance agreement, Dominion also was able to send line crews to Alleghany Power to help deal with heavy out-ages in western Virginia, Ohio and Tennessee.
Because of the magnitude of the storm, Dominion sent word out to bucket-truck crews to drive safely and try to put drivers with expe-rience driving in snow behind the wheel.
“This was a serious storm. We had to replace fuse after fuse, very labor and time intensive, but we had no report of injuries,” Ned-denien said.
About half the outages were restored within 24 hours and the balance, mostly in rural areas, by March 4.