Ice Storm Mara: Lessons and Resilience Strategies for Utility Companies

Ice storms present a unique set of challenges to utility companies; we analyzed the biggest ice storm of 2023 to inform future resilience planning

In late January of 2023, Ice Storm Mara swept through the South Central United States, leaving in its wake a trail of ice and freezing rain. The storm, with its prolonged duration and significant impact on the utility grid, teaches a number of valuable lessons that utilities the world over can benefit from.

In a recent DTN webcast, Brad Nelson, a meteorologist and risk communicator, explained the complexities of the storm and the meteorological conditions that led to the formation of ice and freezing rain – as well as strategies that would have helped mitigate the risk of energy outages.

The initial impact of the storm was dramatic – with cities such as Austin, Texas, experiencing record ice accumulations, power outages, and disrupted services. But it was the aftermath of Ice Storm Mara, as utilities attempted to restore power, that really exposed the unique challenges an ice storm can pose.

From power lines coated in ice to transformers struggling under the weight, the restoration effort required not only technical expertise but also raised serious safety concerns for utility workers navigating hazardous conditions. To put this in context, the storm left over 350,000 people without power and prompted the Governor of Texas to declare an official disaster, with damages exceeding $89 million and tragic fatalities resulting from storm-related car accidents.

While the force of nature will always create challenges, learning lessons from what came before can be a game-changer for utilities wanting to ensure maximum resilience in the face of future extreme weather events.


Ice Resilience Strategies for Utility Companies

The lessons learned from Ice Storm Mara show the clear need for planning as much as possible ahead of time. The following recommendations could help save time and money next time an ice storm hits your region.


Early Warning Systems

While it sounds obvious, forewarned is forearmed – and investing in the best early warning system you can pays dividends in the event of a major storm. Your early warning system needs to be highly customizable – allowing you to create advanced early warning alerts in very specific locations. Set custom thresholds for your own needs and create a risk dashboard that gives you the detailed knowledge you need to understand extreme weather that could impact your infrastructure.


Customized Alert Thresholds

Nobody knows the challenges faced by your regions better than you do – combine your expertise with weather data to create alerts for specific the specific circumstances you need to know about. Different regions have their own characteristics – for example, southern regions may have a lower resilience threshold for ice and wind compared with northern regions. Create alerts that pinpoint the issues you know matter in real time.


Storm Impact Analytics

Analyze the impact of previous storms in your region to predict what may happen in future. A system that uses machine learning can use this information to inform and predict the magnitude and severity of future outages when a storm is on the horizon. This information can help you allocate resources and plan your restoration efforts more effectively, with minimal guesswork.


Investment in Grid Resilience

Prevention is always better than a cure – prioritizing long-term grid resilience investments is truly the best way to minimize disruption in the future. Consider deploying underground lines, using stronger materials for infrastructure, and implementing vegetation management programs to reduce the risk of falling trees and branches during storms. Think ahead to what could possibly go wrong, and plan backwards from there.

While the force of nature will always create challenges, learning lessons from what came before can be a game-changer for utilities wanting to ensure maximum resilience in the face of future extreme weather events.


Resource Planning

Anticipate resource constraints during large-scale events in other areas. No utility company is an island – and severe weather impacting a neighbouring region can cause you just as many problems as a direct hit. Monitor weather in regions beyond your own, and establish plans for mutual assistance, resource sharing and coordination well in advance.


Public Communication

Sharing as much information you can with customers can minimize their anxiety and improve your reputation. In the event of a power outage, nothing is more frustrating than having no information. Enhance communication strategies to keep the public informed about storm impacts, expected outage durations, and safety precautions. This includes utilizing social media, official websites, and other communication channels to disseminate accurate and timely information.


As climate change continues to influence the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, effective management of weather-related risks from hurricanes and other extreme events becomes more complex. Utilities can make better-informed decisions with new, right-time, utility industry-interpreted weather intelligence through products like DTN Storm Risk Analytics. With real-time insights, utilities can confidently anticipate, prepare, and respond to events using  timely data modeled specifically for the utility industry.

Request a demo of DTN Storm Risk solutions today.