Weathering the Storm: Winter Threats to Power Lines

Winter weather can be beautiful…if you are inside drinking a hot cup of cocoa! If you are tasked with winter powerline management, it is a whole different story. 

Keeping the power going during the winter months can be a significant challenge in the face of blizzards and snowstorms. However, utility companies must keep the lights on.

Millions are affected each year by power outages, and as a utility, you know how your customers react when the power is out for an extended period. And with good reason, as winter power outages cause – frozen pipelines, unsafe conditions because of the lack of heat, and many more issues that range from inconvenient to dangerous.

According to the US Department of Energy (DOE), power outages cost more than $150 billion each year. Therefore, it’s critical for utilities to maintain safety and convenience for their customers and their bottom line.

You cannot avoid winter weather, so what can be done? How can your utility successfully weather the storm?

Storm Impact Analysis is one tool that has been proven to better plan staffing and power restoration with specific predictions.

This article will outline the worsening weather conditions facing your utility. Additionally, it will break down specific winter threats and how you can meet them successfully.

Close-up ice covered power line

Winter weather and climate change

Utilities have always needed to protect their powerlines in the event of extreme winter weather.

Yet, in the face of climate change, that threat is more significant than ever before. In recent years, extreme weather has increased in both frequency and severity, as evidenced by the number of blizzards per year doubling since 1965. 

Scientists expect blizzards to continue to worsen and become more intense due to climate change.

Clearly, utilities need to arm themselves with tools to combat the effects of winter weather to rise to these changes.

Utilities need winter weather preparedness plans that include the latest technology and innovations to prepare for winter storms of all shapes and sizes. Climate change may cause the weather to change rapidly; however, technology has advanced with the same speed to meet the challenge.

The following is a look at the specific winter threats that your powerlines may face.

Heavy snow on residential street

Winter threats to power lines

Winter powerline management is different than other times of the year. Severe winter weather creates specific dangers to your powerlines. Here are some examples of the particular risks you may encounter. 

Ice is the winter weather threat that creates most power outages. Ice accretion  can form on powerlines, and when it does, it can cause a short circuit and result in an outage.

Ice can weigh down power lines, making them more liable to snap or break. Damage can start to occur when there is as little as a quarter-inch of ice on the line!

You may be surprised how much ice can weigh down a power line – as little as half an inch of ice can add up to 500 lbs to a power line. 

Strong winter winds create a unique danger to lines during winter storms. When high-wind days happen in conjunction with these other threats, the result is downed power lines.

Not only can the powerline itself go down in heavy winds, but other objects, like tree branches, can be blown into the powerlines and cause damage.

“Galloping Powerlines”
Galloping power lines are caused by a combination of freezing rain and high winds. The freezing rain creates icicles, which high winds will push on and lift. The result is a jumping, or galloping, motion. The higher the wind, the more forceful this motion will be.

While power lines are designed to withstand some motion, galloping powerlines can become dangerous. If the energized conductor comes in contact with any grounded part, it can be hazardous.

Heavy snow
Heavy winter snowfall can cause your power lines to sag and then break.

Mobilizing workers
Unfortunately, when severe winter weather hits, it affects everyone’s ability to move about freely, including your staff.

Therefore, winter weather threatens your power lines, but it also slows down the process to get everything up and running again. 

Sleet is winter weather that does not typically cause power outages, but it can be dangerous to workers outside during winter storms.

Workers may need to work quickly and efficiently. Unfortunately, this increases their risk of injury on the job, which is the last thing that you need!

Utility workers on power lines in the winter

Mitigating the damage

Since you cannot control the weather, how can you mitigate the damage? How can you reduce the time it takes to be back up and operational?

The answer lies in good data.

First, you need a clear grasp of your utilities’ assets. This understanding will help you fathom how winter weather can affect your utilities. Where are your powerlines? Where are they most vulnerable? What about vegetation and other variables?

Second, you need an accurate weather forecast. If you know that winter weather is coming, you can plan ahead. It may mean asking your employees to come in early or stay late so they are not caught out in winter storms away from work.

An accurate forecast also helps when it comes time for damage assessment and restoration efforts.

However, an accurate forecast is just the beginning. Weather is only one piece of the puzzle, and you need to see the whole picture.

You need to forecast the winter threats and the trajectory they will take. You also need to understand how those scenarios will affect you specifically, taking your assets and their vulnerabilities into account.

What if both pieces could come together? What if you could have a clear overview of your assets, the weather, and how to handle the threats coming your way?

Enter Storm Impacts Analysis. This system uses constantly updated meteorological data to take a sophisticated, machine learning approach to winter powerline management. It creates a model of various scenarios and how they will play out in your specific location. 

Learn more about how you can enhance your damage predictions and face winter weather threats with confidence.