We heard that weather was approaching that Monday in late January. But we had no idea.
It started that night, with odd combinations of rain, sleet, snow, and ice, as though Mother Nature couldn’t make up her mind. What the Weather Channel likes to call a wintry mix made light tapping noises on the windows and spooky swishing sounds in the trees.
As Tuesday wore on we started hearing the crashing, popping, and crunching of limbs and entire trees raining earthward under the added weight of the frozen winter coats sheathing every outdoor surface.
Then the temperatures dropped into the teens. The beauty of ice-crystaled tree branches and the novelty of doing without electricity turned to frustration, and even danger. Electric lines on the ground, slick roads, and exposure to the cold turned inconvenience into worry and desperation over necessities as basic as heat and food.
While we worked to adjust our lives to this new winter reality, we started to realize we weren’t alone. Our stories were being repeated all across the state. East to west, north to south, more than 760,000 of us, one of every three Kentuckians, lost power. Some for hours, many for days, and others more than a week. It was the largest power outage in the history of Kentucky.
Governor Steve Beshear confirmed the results of the storm as “the worst disruption of essential services on record in Kentucky.” He called out the state’s 4,000 National Guard troops to help in the recovery, the largest call-up in state history.
The governor’s office confirmed at least 36 deaths as storm-related. Causes included hypothermia, carbon monoxide poisoning from improperly ventilated emergency generators, fires ignited through the use of auxiliary heat, and heart attacks from strenuous storm-related activity like snow shoveling.
The state’s 26 electric cooperatives began responding early Tuesday morning, coordinating efforts from their local dispatching rooms, and statewide through daily telephone conference calls. More than 235,000 electric co-op members lost power, especially in the western part of the state, as the co-ops suffered more than $106 million in damages. It took about a week to whittle that number of outages down to 100,000, as the ice turned to mud, making the work in more remote areas especially difficult.
In addition to the co-op utility crews working around the clock to repair power lines, more than 1,100 electric co-op employees came from 14 other states to help restore electric service.
STORM SURVIVAL TIPS
Weather can disrupt your life, and your electric power, any time of year. Here are the top tips to keep you as safe as possible:
Before the storm
- Make sure your local electric co-op has information on anyone who depends on electricity-powered medical equipment.
- Know the location of a flashlight, battery-powered radio, and extra batteries.
- Post a list of emergency numbers near the phone.
- Have plenty of water and high-energy foods that don’t require refrigeration.
- Be prepared with first-aid supplies and a week’s worth of medicines.
- Keep sleeping bags handy.
- Have access to a fire extinguisher.
When the lights go out
- Report the outage to your local electric co-op.
- Stay away from downed power lines.
- Unplug sensitive electronic equipment.
- Keep refrigerator and freezer closed.
- Turn off major appliances to avoid heavy startup loads that could cause another outage when the power comes back on.
Emergency power and heat safety
- Never use gas stoves, charcoal grills, or camp stoves to heat your home.
- Backup generators can be extremely dangerous. Follow all instructions exactly, only operate a backup electric generator in a well-ventilated area, and do not connect a backup generator to household wiring.
Support your local electric co-op’s right-of-way and tree-trimming programs to avoid outages caused by trees hitting power lines.