December 21, 2013

Maine power companies preparing for weekend ice storm

The worst of the mixed precipitation is expected to fall Saturday night and Sunday morning.

By Eric Russell erussell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

In anticipation of a weekend storm that is expected to blanket Maine with freezing rain and ice, utility companies say they have called for additional assistance from outside the state, in addition to putting their own crews on call.

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Portland Public Works employees load salt and sand trucks Thursday in preparation for expected precipitation this weekend.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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Josh Newell of Standish, right, helps Robert Muldowney, a hardware sales associate at the Home Depot in Portland, load a generator onto a cart for his mother in anticipation of possible electrical outages this weekend.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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storm preparation tips

HOUSEHOLD PREPARATIONS

Charge cellphones, laptops and tablets.

Stock up on drinking water, nonperishable foods, baby supplies and pet food (Remember, canned goods require a can opener).

Keep a seven-day supply of necessary medications on hand.

 Clean up anti-freeze spills.

Stock up on ice melt.

Clear snow off roofs.

Keep a multifunctional tool on hand for unexpected repairs.

Bring pets indoors during harsh conditions.

Keep battery-operated or hand-crank flashlights and radios on hand.

Keep extra cash in case ATMs aren’t working.

POWER OUTAGES

Leave downed power lines alone.

Run generators outdoors and at least 15 feet from windows and doors. Don’t run a generator in an open garage.

Turn off a generator before refueling it.

Use a quick-response thermometer to check if food is safe to eat and throw away any that has spent more than two hours above 40 degrees.

If the power goes out, keep refrigerators and freezers closed as much as possible.

HEATING

Leave a trickle of cold water running to prevent frozen pipes.

To thaw a pipe, apply an electric heating pad or hair dryer; do not use flames.

When using an emergency heat source, keep fuels away from flames or burners.

Ensure heaters or fires are properly ventilated.

Never use grills or camp stoves indoors.

TRAVEL

• Try to stay off roads.

Make sure your car has plenty of gas.

 If you need to find a shelter, call Maine 211 at 211 or visit 211maine.org. To check road conditions, call 511 or visit 511maine.org.

GENERAL SAFETY

Don’t use candles or other open flames.

Ensure carbon monoxide and smoke detectors are working.

Outdoor grills can substitute for indoor cooking.

Only licensed electricians should install permanent generators and transfer switches.

Properly ground portable generators.

Don’t store fuel indoors.

Sources: Central Maine Power; American Red Cross; Maine Emergency Management Agency

Gail Rice, spokeswoman for Central Maine Power Co., the state’s largest electricity provider, said more than 200 line workers are on call for this weekend and all will be dispatched if needed. She said Friday that another 60 workers have agreed to come down from Canada as well.

Rice said CMP also has requested assistance from utilities that are part of the North Atlantic Mutual Assistance Group. There are 35 utilities in that consortium, which extends from Atlantic Canada down to Maryland.

Rice said she didn’t know how many requests had been made and that CMP had not gotten any firm commitments by late Friday.

“Utilities need to assess their own needs before they can offer assistance,” she said.

Susan Faloon, spokeswoman for Bangor Hydro Electric Co., which serves most of eastern and northern Maine, said her company employs more than 100 line workers and most will be on standby this weekend. Faloon said Bangor Hydro also would make requests for assistance but she said the company was not ready to say how much help it would ask for.

The weather across Maine will be unstable and filled with mixed precipitation for most of the weekend, with the worst of it likely to take place between Saturday night and Sunday morning.

Forecasters were still unsure Friday exactly how weather patterns would come together, but the consensus seemed to be that heavy snowfall will dominate the northern third of the state, a mix of snow and ice will be more common in the middle third, and sleet and freezing rain will be prevalent along the southern and coastal parts of the state.

“Once it starts, it’s not going to be fun,” said Nikki Becker, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Gray.

That middle band of the state, starting near Fryeburg at the New Hampshire border and running northeast toward Waterville, is likely to see the highest accumulation of ice, perhaps as much as a half-inch in some spots. The southern and coastal swath will see some ice, too, but probably not as much. Precipitation that turns to ice once it falls is a relatively uncommon phenomenon that occurs when warm air sits on top of cold surface air. Meteorologists call it “overrunning.”

Ice is always a bigger concern than snow because of the potential damage it can cause to such infrastructure as utility lines.

“It’s very much expected that we’ll have some power outages,” said Lynette Miller, spokeswoman for the Maine Emergency Management Agency, which is closely monitoring the weather and coordinating with counties for targeted response as needed.

Utility companies have been watching the storm for the last few days and continued to watch it closely on Friday. Although no one expects the storm to reach the level of the catastrophic ice storm of 1998, or even more recent major ice storms, crews are preparing just in case.

A report by the Federal Emergency Management Agency after the 1998 storm suggested the biggest problems in Maine were caused by damage to trees in close proximity to electrical transmission lines. In many cases, that led to extended power outages because utility crews could not gain access to power lines until the damaged trees were first removed.

Utility companies say they have since put more emphasis on tree trimming.

CMP has spent $25 million over the last five years to trim trees along its 24,000 transmission miles. That’s a significant increase over CMP’s historical budget for tree trimming and Rice said CMP officials believe the aggressive trimming has led to a 34 percent reduction in tree-related outages.

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Additional Photos

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John Owen pulls down generators at Lowes in Portland on Friday in preparation for customers’ needs this weekend if an ice storm causes electrical outages. Gordon Chibroski, Staff Photographer

  


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