crews across Missouri battled cold and long hours to restore power
following a devastating ice storm that struck Jan. 30.
Ice is an electric co-op
manager's worst nightmare.
The combination of rain and
temperatures hovering at the freezing mark spells disaster. As ice forms
wires sag and then break. Poles snap like toothpicks. Anchors pull from
the ground, toppling entire stretches of power lines.
That's exactly what happened
on the morning of Jan. 30 as freezing rain left a 50-mile- wide band
of destruction from Kansas City to the Mississippi River. Osage Valley
Electric Cooperative, based in Butler, was the first Missouri co-op
to see just how severe the storm would prove to be.
"During the first several
hours of Wednesday morning we thought we were handling most of it pretty
well ourselves," says Jon McClure, manager of the co-op which serves
14,000 members, primarily in Cass, Bates and Henry counties to the south
of Kansas City. "But
as the day progressed reports kept coming in that places where we had
been before were starting to go down again.
"We had one area where we
had 3 miles (of line) go down right in a row and then another area where
we had a mile go down," McClure says. "We
could see there was just no way we were going to keep ahead of it."
Before night fell more than
8,500 of the co-op's members were without power.
As always happens in times
like these, McClure turned to his neighbors for help. A call to the
Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives in Jefferson City activated
the co-ops' emergency response procedure. Quickly
crews from outside the storm's path packed their tools, called their
wives and headed into the fray. Many of those men would not return home
for a week.
To the east electric co-ops
braced for the worst. They got it.
"I've been here 40-some years
and it's the worst storm we've ever had," says Darrel Rinne, interim
manager of West Central Electric, the next co-op to be hit as the storm
passed through Lafayette and Johnson counties, knocking out power to
9,000 of the co-op's 12,000 members.
All told, 11 Missouri co-ops
suffered major outages. Besides Osage Valley and West Central the storm
struck co-ops based in Sedalia, Chillicothe, Kearney, Fayette, Columbia,
Palmyra, Lewistown, Lamar and El Dorado Springs. Three other systems,
in Mexico, Tipton and New London, had outages which lasted a day or
The heroic effort to restore
power saw co-op linemen working 16 hour days. Crews from 23 Missouri
systems rushed to help. Even co-ops in the storm's path lent a hand
once their own power was restored.
In addition, co-ops enlisted
the help of independent electrical contractors and right-of-way crews
to repair lines and clear fallen trees and brush. Even that was not
enough to gain ground as some systems' lines continued to collapse well
after the rain stopped.
"We had worked this thing
for two days and come Thursday night we lost 40 or 50 poles because
the wind picked up," recalls Wayne Hackman, manager of Macon Electric
Cooperative, which lost power to nearly 70 percent of its 11,000 members.
"That really blew us away.
We thought we were headed down the road of recovery and boy, we come
in the next morning and we've got lines on the ground."
Despite set-backs, electric
co-ops managed to reconstruct systems that had taken years to build.
That does not mean these systems returned to their pre-storm condition,
from Macon Electric Cooperative, along with linemen from neighboring
systems, work to restore more than a mile of lines and poles which
collapsed two days after an ice storm struck the co-op.
"You just do what you have
to to get power back on and then you go back and finish it up later,"
says Rinne, who called on his experience as manager, operations superintendent,
lineman and brush crewman out in the field guiding visiting crews.
Indeed, even though the
power is back on, co-ops have a lot of work yet to do.
"We've got some nasty looking
lines," says Hackman, whose co-op office was running on a standby generator
two days after the storm. "We've got a whole series of lines where the
poles are setting at an angle because an anchor gave way. Somewhere
along the line we have to go back and straighten that out.
"Then you've got the whole
issue of right of way," he says. "We've
cut trees all over the place. We've got to go back and address cleaning
that up at some point in time. But that's going to have a pretty low
While repairing the obvious
damage from the storm will take months, other effects will be felt for
"All of these poles have
some kind of stress or ground disturbance that is going to weaken the
system," says McClure. "Ten, 15 years from now, you're going to lose
the life of that pole that may have lasted longer."
And then there are the financial
effects of a major ice storm. All that vital help from neighboring co-ops
and contract crews must be paid for. There's also wire and poles, crossarms
|A co-op lineman
salvages hardware from a pole downed by the weight of accumulated
The cost is staggering.
Hackman says the Jan. 30 storm
cost Macon Electric $750,000. West Central Electric puts the damage
at nearly $2 million.
Most of the affected parts
of the state have been declared disaster areas by the federal government
so co-ops can count on relief money to cover some of their expenses.
Still, the storm will have a significant impact on a co-op's financial
"It definitely affects the
margins for this year," says McClure. "You have to make up that loss
before you can allocate any capital credits."
Considering hardship on members,
strain on co-op employees, long-term damage to systems and financial
losses it's hard to find any silver lining in the clouds which brought
the January storm. Still, without exception, co-ops report members responded
to the storm with strength and appreciation for their co-ops.
"People were out of power
four and five days but even being out that long everybody is thanking
us for getting it back on. They now realize how important electricity
is to them," says Hackman. "We've got our whole break room full of notes
from people and there isn't over two or three that have any negative
"It makes our employees
feel good and makes me feel good, too," he says.