Weekend ice storm affects hundreds of thousands in Midwest, East, and Canada

A massive ice storm the weekend before Christmas left nearly three-quarters of a million people without electricity across the Midwestern and Eastern United States and in Ontario, Canada, and many could still be in the cold and dark when Santa makes his appearance.

The storm that started in the U.S. Midwest and brought flooding to parts of Kentucky turned cold as it swept northward, resulting in power outages to nearly 300,000 people in Michigan and causing freezing rain to snap power lines in the Canadian province of Ontario, darkening more than 400,000 households north of the border.

Across the province, the weather-related outages were “Largely … embedded in the distribution system,” a spokesperson for Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) told TransmissionHub Dec. 23. “We’re not seeing any impacts today on the transmission system.” 

Outside metropolitan Toronto, in Hydro One’s service area, outages were also primarily on the distribution side, although a Hydro One spokesperson told TransmissionHub that some transmission-level lines may have been affected during the storm’s early stages. By Monday morning, however, all remaining outages were affecting distribution-level lines.

“It’s very much a distribution issue,” the spokesperson said. “It’s vegetation coming down on lines because of the weight of the ice, so that’s what [crews are] dealing with.” As of 3:30 p.m. Eastern time Dec. 23, about 94,000 Hydro One customers were without power, and some could still be in the dark through Christmas Eve, according to restoration estimates on the utility’s web site.

In Toronto Hydro’s service area, some 215,000 customers were without power as of 2 p.m. Eastern time Dec. 23, representing a decline from the initial 300,000 who were without power.

In Michigan, independent transmission provider ITC Holdings (NYSE:ITC) reported that its system was also affected by the storm but that service has been restored.

“The ice storm on Saturday caused minor damage to equipment on several transmission circuits in mid-Michigan,” an ITC spokesperson told TransmissionHub. “All circuits except one, which was not impacting customers, were restored to service by Sunday in cooperation with our utility customers.”

Almost 400,000 customers throughout DTE Energy’s (NYSE: DTE) southeast Michigan service area and Consumers Energy’s service territory were deprived of power by the weekend ice storms.

Consumers Energy reported that 260,000 of its customers were initially left without power; more than 200,000 remained with electricity as of 1 p.m. Eastern time Dec. 23. The utility estimates power to some customers might not be restored until as late as Saturday, Dec. 28.

About 138,000 DTE customers were initially affected by the storm. Approximately 83,000 customers remained out as of noon Eastern time Dec. 23. DTE estimates that 90% of its customers will be restored by Christmas Eve.

DTE does not operate transmission-level infrastructure, and its outages are on the distribution side, 40-kV and below, a DTE spokesperson told TransmissionHub Dec. 23. Under Michigan Public Act 141 passed in 2000, regulated utilities were required to divest their transmission facilities or join a multistate regional transmission operator approved by FERC.

In Maine, utility crews from Bangor Hydro/Maine Public Service worked on the utilities’ distribution lines to restore power to more than 33,000 customers who were still in the dark as of 3 p.m. Eastern time Dec. 23, from the ice storm that moved through that state.

“Progress has been slow since ongoing sleet and freezing rain continue to cause new outages,” the utility said in a statement on its web site.

More than 18,000 people in Hancock and Washington counties in Maine – the two hardest-hit counties – were left without power by ice accumulations of up to one-half an inch. Crews reduced the total number of outages to around 7,000 in those counties by Monday morning. While its crews continue to work to full restore power, the utility acknowledged, “Some customers are expected to be without power until [Christmas Eve].” 

A one-half inch accumulation of ice on power lines can add 500 pounds of extra weight, according to The Weather Channel.

In an interesting juxtaposition, thousands of Argentines in Buenos Aires were without power on Dec. 22 as demand for electricity continued to grow amid a prolonged heat wave. The Argentine power grid set a new record for electricity demand Dec. 21 when the consumption level reached 20,605 MW, exceeding the record of 20,287 MW set during the previous week, according to the Federal Planning Ministry.

The demand level is directly related to the high temperatures across the country for more than 10 days and the high level of economic activity, the ministry said.

The high temperatures which have been affecting central and northern Argentina for a week, often exceeding 95 degrees Fahrenheit, are contributing to an increase in electricity consumption in most homes as people turn to air conditioning in an effort to keep the heat at bay. Significant blackouts have resulted, and many have not been resolved, according to Argentine news sources.

The weather service forecasts that the coming days will see a sustained increase in temperatures in Argentina through Christmas.