More Weather Extremes; More Outages

Coop CurrentsCoop News

Meteorologist Roger Hill predicts wetter storms and increased outages; GM Louis Porter on WEC’s response

Meteorologist and WEC member Roger Hill reads weather maps and models from his home office on a Worcester mountainside. Since 2007, he has provided forecasting for all Vermont utilities; he’s forecasted for WEC a few years longer. On May 2, Hill was the featured presenter at WEC’s Annual Meeting. In a voice familiar to many members from his weather spots on WDEV Radio Vermont—deep and animated, with the flattish vowels of his California roots—he presented analysis of recent storms, and what this means for the future.

Using slides of weather models and storm photos, Hill described characteristics of recent major storms to hit WEC territory. As he went through the features of each storm, trends became clear. Until recently, snowfall in Central Vermont tended toward the kind of dry snow that accumulates on the ground but not on trees. But increasingly, winter temperatures between 30-35 degrees result in wet, heavy snow accumulation on trees, and that leads to outages as the overloaded branches and trees are more likely to come down. “This is becoming extremely common,” warned Hill.

Hill introduced storms still fresh in the memories of most members—December 23, 2022, which resulted in a week-long outage; July 11, 2023, which resulted in catastrophic flooding; the cycle of wind and heavy snow storms in November and December, 2023. First, he described what storm modeling predicted, and then he showed each storm’s memorable impact. There are different types of models Hill consults, and they show information in different ways. The models he showed were very different from a TV meteorologist’s map: for example, a BUFKIT model showing “basically a cross-section of those high winds” looked like a vivid purple Spiderman web. Five or six days before the storm that caused the July 2023 flood, Hill said, the modeling showed major flooding was likely.

Rarely is WEC the only utility bearing the brunt of the damage. “Sometimes we get a local storm. Most of the time, they affect just about everyone, in some way, in the state of Vermont,” Hill noted. Later, GM Louis Porter pointed out that as storm intensity increases, widespread damage can mean longer outages, reduced capacity for mutual aid from neighboring utilities, and overwhelmed call centers.

The takeaway, Hill explained, is that a changing climate means wetter snow and more damaging winter storms. “Dry snow used to hinder travel, but not utilities,” he said; heavy snow load on trees is a growing concern. If you observe young birch trees, Hill pointed out, many now grow with irregular or bent trunks, instead of straight up: the result of snow load on these flexible trees. WEC’s David Young agreed with this: birch trees increasingly contribute to outages, he said, bending under snow load from outside rights-of-way to touch power lines.

As global weather heads into a La Niña pattern, Hill said multiple weather models show a warmer than usual summer, with the possibility of above normal rainfall “More heat, more rain, more thunder, more outages,” predicted Hill. “The oddball tornado is a possibility.”

Member Nona Estrin asked if Vermont is at increasing risk of wildfires, especially with forests full of ash trees dying from emerald ash borer infestations. In other parts of North America, Hill said, fire used to be seasonal: now fires occur year-round. “Fire is definitely in our future because of extreme wet periods followed by extreme dry periods,” he explained. “If it can happen to the north of us in Canada, it can happen here in Vermont.”

Porter on WEC’s response

After the business portion of the Annual Meeting concluded, Porter provided a quick presentation to WEC members who stayed on to learn how their cooperative utility responds to outage challenges. First, Porter described the staff commitment to restoring power. During an extended outage, “the work schedule is usually 18 hours on, six hours off, for crews and dispatch,” he reported—grueling work completed with the single goal of ensuring every members’ power is returned as quickly and safely as possible.

Complications may include managing calls and inaccessible lines. “Our own call center gets overwhelmed,” Porter conceded, “but the national system also gets overwhelmed” by major regional storms. WEC generally performs well on its service performance metrics, but speedy call management is a persistent trouble spot during storms.

Meanwhile, some landowners don’t allow crews access to rights-of-way by crossing their properties, requiring crews to reach the lines through longer and less efficient routes. Often, the refusal to allow access is because landowners don’t want trees cut, Porter said. The problem is communicating that the reason power goes out is because those trees aren’t maintained. “We don’t cut trees because we hate trees. We cut trees because they fall on power lines,” Porter said.

With multiple challenges in mind, WEC has started making some changes, especially in the way it communicates to members. WEC regularly updates outage information on, and continues to improve its tech: line crews now bring tablets into the field, where they can log and compare outage updates in real time.

One major change has been providing time of restoration estimates to members. Porter acknowledged while he maintains hesitation about offering estimates—they can never be completely accurate—he has received an overwhelming positive response from members. Elizabeth Locke of Corinth added that she also appreciates WEC’s outage maps, accessible via

David Spooner of Marshfield raised the question of batteries, and if it’s possible to create microgrids for local resilience to outages. Porter thought WEC’s population density—rural and lacking population clusters—made microgrid creation more difficult, but that WEC staff are looking at how the Co-op could use batteries to support resilience.

Ken Davis of Middlesex wondered how fellow members responded to Porter’s General Manager’s report in the previous issue of Co-op Currents. In that message, Porter advised members that WEC has the responsibility to prepare for and respond to outages, and members are responsible for their own preparation as well—a point he reiterated during his presentation. Members responded well and with understanding, Porter said. “I think we need to keep educating members, and I don’t think we should sugarcoat the fact that there will be outages of long duration.”
To learn more about WEC’s resource planning, read about WEC’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) filing in the President’s and General Manager’s message and view the IRP document on