If you witnessed the thunderstorms that hit the area late Friday night, you might have thought that they seemed more intense than normal — stronger winds, more frequent lightning. But almost as suddenly as they formed, they were gone again, and the rain and wind had even temporarily exchanged the scorching heat for some slightly more tolerable temperatures. Your lights may have flickered or you lost power altogether, but to many, it may have seemed to be a summer storm like any other.
However, what was soon evident was this was no average thunderstorm. High winds peaked at 70 mph, downing limbs and uprooting trees. Unlike a thunderstorm that might hit a few isolated areas, this storm ripped a swath of damage across multiple states. In its wake, it left millions without power, including 564,000 BGE customers in eight counties and Baltimore City. A state of emergency was officially declared in Maryland.
By all accounts this storm had tropical storm power, and the destruction it left actually caused about two-thirds the number of outages created by last summer's hurricane. But, unlike an Atlantic tropical storm, which allows for days of preparation, Friday's "derecho" storm, as it has been categorized by meteorologists, left no time for the usual preparation. It struck suddenly and violently.
Despite this, BGE's general state of readiness for summer storms allowed for rapid mobilization. Even as the storm was still in the area, BGE personnel were assessing damages and restoring public safety facilities — hospitals, 911 centers, water treatment and pumping facilities. Crews were quickly assigned to the jobs that would restore service to the greatest number of customers at one time. By 9 a.m. the next morning, 100,000 customers were back in service. Within 36 hours, more than 50 percent of customers who had experienced a service interruption had their power back. Progress continues with each passing hour.
With utilities from the Midwest to the Mid-Atlantic coping with repairs on their own systems, BGE immediately reached beyond the storm's path to request help from more than 900 utility workers coming from as far away as Florida, New York, Connecticut, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Michigan, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Canada. BGE's sister utility, PECO, an Exelon Company, was one of the first utilities to dispatch crews to Maryland. They joined the more than 1,300 BGE personnel who are leading the round-the-clock restoration, and we continue to add more personnel and request more assistance.
Even with additional resources, it takes hundreds of thousands of man hours to work through as many outages as were caused by this storm. This is especially true when crews have to remove limbs and whole trees that snarled wires and snapped poles. This type of widespread, extensive damage also complicates our ability to quickly provide accurate restoration times, especially when original damage assessments are revised upon closer inspection of the work required. We know that power outages are frustrating, especially when customers can't plan around a restoration time. The recent extreme heat just compounds frustrations.
We thank all of our customers for their patience and understanding and for the encouragement they frequently voice for the men and women working in tough and dangerous conditions to restore power. We also thank our customers who prepare for possible extended outages. Unfortunately, this will not be the last storm we encounter. Despite extensive, ongoing tree trimming along our electric lines and with significant investments in reliability equipment, power outages still occur. Even as we continue to clean up the wreckage left behind by this storm, it is a good idea to prepare for the next event. Visit the online storm center on bge.com to review what to do before, during and after a storm.
Once again, we thank you for your patience and we look forward to completing storm restorations.
Jeannette M. Mills, Baltimore
The writer is Baltimore Gas and Electric Company's vice president for customer operations and chief customer officer.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun