When it comes to a power outages, ice isn't the biggest enemy
Traverse City, MICH (WPBN/WGTU)--When it comes to ice a buildup on your windshield can be an annoyance. But when it builds up on power lines and perhaps more importantly the trees that surround them that annoyance intensifies in the forms of widespread power outages.
At Cherryland Elective Co-operative, Frank Siepker's job is to keep the lines up and keep your power on. Today, he's keeping a close eye on the weather. He knows his lines can handle the ice we're getting, instead he’s focusing on what surrounds them in many places. "Our enemy on days like today, it is the wind and the ice, but the biggest enemy are the trees."
Most overhead power lines are capable to handling the type of ice accumulation we are seeing today. "We design our lines for 1/2 inch of radial ice accumulation, so 1/2 an inch on each side of the for the conductor, actually an inch of ice" explains Frank.
He says it's not the lines that usually fail. A1/2 inch of ice adds about 200 pounds on the lines between each pole. That’s the equivalent of adding an average size football player to the line. It's heavy but they can handle it.
That weight causes the power lines to simply sag. That's not the power outage problem. But when the ice and snow pile up on nearby tree limbs, it causes those to snap. "You have all hauled a piece of firewood around, a piece of fire wood weighs a lot. So, you think of a whole tree you are talking thousands of pounds" say Frank.
A downed tree on a line is the equivalent of hanging a small car from them. There not built to handle that, and that's how you end up in the dark.
And the risk of you being without power won’t just end when the freezing rain does. "You are all clear when the ice is all gone, and the trees are looking back to normal but until then there is always that risk of outages “stresses Frank.
Cherryland spends about $1 million a year trimming trees from near power lines. Every five years, a line is re-trimmed. In between, the odds of a tree limb getting weighted down with ice and snow, and then blown around in gusty winds increases.