When Will the Lights Come Back on in Virginia?

By Amie Knowles

February 19, 2021

More than 27,000 Virginians remain in the dark as of Friday morning, due to the ice storm.

DINWIDDIE – As of midnight Friday, more than 27,900 Virginia residents were still in the dark. It may take a few days, however, to fully restore power.

Southside Electric Cooperative’s territory was hit the hardest. As of midnight, the area had 22,553 people without power, with Charlotte and Lunenburg counties each adding more than 3,000. Dinwiddie County alone had 4,072 still without lights.

Teresa Hamilton Hall, the Virginia and Tennessee media correspondent for Appalachian Power, reported it was still too early to say whether or not the winter storm might impact more customers. Dominion Energy officials said the same Thursday night.

“The temperatures are fluctuating. So we see some areas where it’s freezing. Some where it’s staring to fall. But then when those temperatures dip or any wind comes along, then we could see more issues,” Hamilton Hall said. “So we have not let our guard down at all.” 

Behind the Scenes in Virginia

There’s an entire team working on power lines after the electricity falters. There’s also a team of people working to predict what could happen before the first home ever goes dark.

“You’ve got your prep work. We have a team of meteorologists who work for AEP. It’s our own internal team. So they monitor all storms for us and they make us aware, in the different operating companies. Like, we’re Appalachian Power, but we also have Kentucky Power, Ohio Power. All of these companies get the storm reports that take a look at what the weather system is and any impacts to a utility. So it looks at a pure utility perspective,” Hamilton Hall said. “That gives us advanced notice. So we can take a look at that.”

Depending on the conditions the weather reports suggest, leaders take the appropriate actions.

“If it’s anything that’s a quarter inch or more, it’s worrisome if there’s going to be wind attached,” Hamilton Hall said. “What we do internally, so the managers – who it is their profession, it’s what they do – take a look at the reports and then they plan.”

For Thursday’s winter weather, thousands of AEP customers faced their second or even third storm in less than a week. Taking both that and the weather predictions into account, AEP procured additional resources. 

“They called in additional resources and that’s what they do. They look at the weather reports. ‘Do we have enough people to effectively handle what we think we could be hit with?’ And then make plans,” Hamilton Hall said. “For this storm, knowing there was the potential for a quarter inch or more of ice and a little bit of wind, we went ahead and brought in additional resources. That means additional people, additional trucks, additional equipment.”

The Number One Problem 

If the power goes out during a winter storm, chances are it’s not because a squirrel ran across the line.

“Trees are our number one problem,” Hamilton Hall said. “So that’s why you hear a lot about trees.” 

Power lines throughout Virginia typically withstand about half an inch of ice. On average, that’s about 500 lbs. of ice on a line. While ice forming atop the wires could cause an outage, frozen precipitation is not the main culprit in the Commonwealth.

“So it’s not the ice freezing on the wire that’s necessarily the problem. It’s the trees. It’s the trees that are the real issue. They’re the real culprit,” Hamilton Hall said. “So even if that tree doesn’t fall onto the wire, in an icy situation, you’ve got the branches. Especially with pine trees, they will sag. And then that weight is on top of the wire. That’s where you see the issue. So it’s not just trees that fall on the wire, but any time you’ve got trees that droop and add that additional weight onto the wire, that’s when you start to see the wire sag or the wire snap. And in some instances when the wire does break, it’ll take the poles down with it. Trees are a real issue.” 

Amie Knowles reports for Dogwood. You can reach her at [email protected].

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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