State lawmakers seek answers for why nearly half a million Missourians lost electric power during last month’s ice storm, but the answers they’re getting are less than satisfying.
Bill Davis with the National Weather Service in Springfield tells committee members, "For a meteorologist, it was an awesome ice storm." Utility executives understood the point. They didn’t share the sentiment. The executives have appeared before a special House committee to explain how they reacted to power outages and what could be changed to get residents back on line sooner in the future.
John Twitty with City Utilities of Springfield tells committee members 75,000 customers lost power at the peak of the storm. Some went without power for two weeks. The ice storm hit Missouri January 12 th and didn’t release the state from its grip until the 14 th . It hit the Joplin area first, and then followed the I-44 corridor through Springfield and into St. Louis. The storm coated power lines and utility poles with two to four inches of ice, well above the half an inch they are tested to withstand. They snapped and broke, plunging hundreds of thousands of homes in darkness.
Utility executives say they called in extra crews which worked long shifts, but progress proved painfully slow. More aggressive tree trimming has been suggested as a way to prevent such widespread outages, but Mike Palmer with Empire District Electric of Joplin says that wouldn’t have helped much. Palmer and other executives say heavy ice brought the lines down. He says his engineers calculated that the ice added up to 3,000 pounds of weight on utility poles, which would be like parking a full-size Chevrolet Suburban on each pole.
The executives also point out that any increase in preventative measures would drive up electric bills. They say that must be balanced against the desire to prepare for such an unlikely winter storm.