With fall’s first weather system predicted to hit Western Washington this weekend, Puget Sound Energy crews and emergency responders are ready if forecasted high winds and heavy rain batter the region.
“While the sun was shining these past few months, our crews were busy trimming trees, working on reliability projects and getting ready for winter,” said Andy Wappler, a certified meteorologist and PSE vice president of corporate affairs. “Now that the weather is changing, those preparations will help us serve our customers as storm season begins.”
Wappler will be speaking Saturday, Oct. 13, at storm-preparedness events in Thurston and Pierce counties. At 10 a.m., he will be speaking at the Thurston County Preparedness Expo at St. Martin’s College Pavilion & Worthington Center, 5300 Pacific Ave. SE, in Lacey, and at 2 p.m. at the Puyallup Emergency Fair, South Hill Mall, 3500 South Meridian, in Puyallup.
Although the National Weather Service predicts an El Nino weather pattern, which typically results in a mild mid-to-late winter with warmer and drier weather than average, the phenomenon has little impact on reducing the number of fall and early winter storms. As an example, meteorologists point to the very stormy fall of 2006, which brought flooding, snow and the devastating December 14-15 Hanukkah Eve wind storm.
“Our PSE crews are ready for storm season, and we want families and businesses to be ready, too,” Wappler said. “Our storm bases used our recent mild weather to train for when weather turns rough. The professionals are prepared. We want your family to be prepared as well.”
More than 250 PSE personnel recently took part in the utility’s annual “mock storm” exercises at PSE’s Emergency Coordination Center and its storm bases in Olympia, Puyallup, Kent, Redmond, Poulsbo and Burlington. The series of drills required crews to simulate all aspects of response to a major, widespread storm, from assessing damaged electrical systems and dispatching line crews to coordinating with local emergency-service agencies and communicating with customers and the media.
While effective, well-planned storm response is vital, Wappler said, equally critical is the work PSE does throughout the year to harden its energy-delivery infrastructure. PSE invests more than $100 million per year to maintain its electric system and enhance equipment reliability. The effort includes such things as:
• Trimming or removing trees that are threatening to come into contact with power lines. In 2012, for instance, PSE crews are pruning trees along 200 miles of distribution lines and 10 miles of transmission lines in Thurston County, piloting an enhanced tree-pruning method in Kitsap County, and continuing a multi-year effort to prune trees along the transmission lines on Whidbey Island. In all, PSE trims approximately 1,110 miles of high-voltage transmission line and 1,900 miles of distribution lines annually across its nine-county electric service area.
• Strategically replacing overhead power lines with specially coated “tree wire” that is less prone to power outages if a tree branch falls into the line. This year PSE is installing more than 40 miles of this high-strength wire, including in the Crescent Valley area of Pierce County.
• Upgrading substations and replacing aged transformers, fuses, breakers, power poles and other electrical equipment.
• Replacing overhead power lines in outage-prone areas with underground cable. On Bainbridge Island, for example, PSE is working to “underground” two existing overhead distribution lines to lower the number of tree-related power outages. Territorywide, PSE has more than 20,000 miles of power-distribution lines; half of those lines are now underground.
Wappler noted that PSE is a partner with other utilities and local governments in Take Winter By Storm, a campaign to raise community awareness of hazardous weather and help citizens get prepared before bad weather hits. For tips on weather preparedness and safety, please visit PSE.com/Safety/GetPrepared or TakeWinterByStorm.org.