Winter Storm Elliott: How does it compare to previous storms?

Coop CurrentsCoop News

By Barry Bernstein

Winter Storm Elliott, or the Christmas 2022 storm, will prove to be the most expensive storm in WEC’s history, but not the longest one in terms of days out. It was part of a storm front that put 200 million Americans on a winter alert: that’s two thirds of the US population. It was preceded by a heavy wet snow storm the weekend before, which weakened tree roots, making them more susceptible to coming down during Winter Storm Elliott’s high winds. There were only three days between when WEC crews finished restoring power from the earlier storm and the weeks spent restoring power after Winter Storm Elliott.

At this point, the price tag for the cost of this storm is nearly a million dollars. It set a WEC record for the number of broken poles at 40, far higher than the previous record of 23 broken poles. The high winds, ranging 50-85 miles per hour, took service out for 75,000 homes and businesses across the state. WEC had 5,300 member households out at one time, some out for up to six days. WEC sustained over 12,000 member hours out between the two consecutive storms.

I was curious how this storm, compounding the heavy wet snow outages the week before, compares with previous storms, so I looked back a dozen years.

A few notes:

  • WEC has the most rural, hilly, wooded territory in the state. Close to 1,000 miles of our 1,350 miles of distribution line are located off the road – about the same number of miles as the distance between Montpelier and Chicago.
  • During some storms, WEC can not start restoration work until Green Mountain Power fixes outages on their transmission lines. Those lines feed power to WEC’s eight substations and one metering point and our crews need that information to know where our outages are.
  • “High winds” generally means winds above 40 miles per hour. Winds as high as 50-80 miles per hour do the most damage.
  • The scope of the storm impact, both nationally and locally, strained the response capability of Cooperative Response Center, the national call center used by WEC and other public power electric utilities, and damaged WEC’s meter reading system.
  • If the whole state, region, or northeast is affected by a storm, WEC can not receive mutual aid support from other electric utilities until those other utilities repair their own systems.
  • Living in rural areas, versus urban or suburban areas, has benefits – but during weather events, the reality is, it has its challenges too.
Comparison of major storms from 2014 – 2022

There were other major outage events in these years caused by storms and transmission and generation failures. The years between 2010 and 2013 also saw some historic storm damage:

  • WEC saw five major storms during wet and stormy 2013. Three storms each caused thousands of outages. During June 2013, WEC’s phone system was damaged when it was hit by lightning.
  • On July 4, 2012, storm remnants of Hurricane Sandy caused more than 300 trees to fall on WEC lines.
  • On August 28, 2011, Tropical Storm Irene was the most damaging weather event in modern Vermont history.
  • Earlier in 2011, on May 26 and 27, severe flooding caused not only outages but damaged WEC’s main office in East Montpelier, requiring staff to move into trailers while the office was completely rebuilt.
  • On July 10, 2010, a microburst in Brookfield completely wiped out a mile of line, causing outages for four to five days.

Barry Bernstein served on WEC’s Board from 1998-2022, and was Board President for many of those years. He lives in Calais.