On December 18, 2014

Snowfall caused power outages affecting over 100,000 households; storm estimates exceed $2 million

Gov. Shumlin, emergency officials ask FEMA for damage assessment

On Monday, Dec. 15, the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) reported that the estimated cost for the storm was $2.2 milliion as of 8 a.m. that day. VTrans crews have plowed or treated for more than 120 hours continuously, covering 185,000 lane miles since the storm began last Tuesday. 12,600 tons of salt and 230,000 gallons of brine have been applied to the state highway system. Once the precipitation stops, there will be several days of pushing back snow banks and clearing parking areas, and the numbers will increase somewhat over the next few days, the agency reported.

“VTrans’ team has been working on overdrive to keep roads open and Vermont’s travelers safe,” said Deputy Transportation Secretary Sue Minter. “This was an intense and lengthy storm and it’s not over yet. Travelers should drive with caution as precipitation and temperature changes continue to make slippery conditions in some areas.”  

At the request of Gov. Peter Shumlin, officials with the Vermont Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security (DEMHS) have asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to conduct a preliminary damage assessment in Vermont counties impacted by last week’s severe winter storm. The state is asking for the assessment in an effort to qualify for federal public assistance to help cover the cost of cleanup and recovery from the storm.

DEMHS Director Joe Flynn has asked FEMA Regional Administrator Paul Ford to send assessors to work with utilities and state agency personnel to assess damages.

“Under the federal Stafford Act, publicly owned and municipal utilities can be eligible for 75 percent federal reimbursement of restoration costs should the state and counties meet federal thresholds,” Director Flynn said. “A public assistance disaster declaration would also assist towns to pay for qualifying damages to public infrastructure and some response and recovery costs.”

“This storm was hard on tens of thousands of Vermonters, some of whom were in the dark for several days or more,” Gov. Shumlin said. “Private and municipal utilities spent millions of dollars replacing poles, paying crews, and hiring contractors from out of state in restoring power to Vermonters as quickly as they could. We believe FEMA will agree that the state and public utilities meet the thresholds for assistance.”

To qualify for assistance Vermont must show at least $1 million in eligible costs; individual counties must also meet separate thresholds for assistance. Should the thresholds be met, Gov. Shumlin would forward a formal request to FEMA, who would then determine whether or not to recommend that President Barack Obama sign the declaration.

Over 132,000 homes lost power

GMP released a storm update Sunday, Dec. 14, reporting that less than 1,700 customers remained without power, having restored power to more than 132,200. Approximately 1,000 lineworkers and tree trimmers – roughly equivalent to the population of Killington—concentrated their work in the areas impacted hardest by this unprecedented storm. Forecasters and lineworkers called this the worst storm they’ve seen in decades.

Chet Farrell, a long time chief lineworker at GMP said, “In my 23 years as a lineworker, I can’t remember such a tough snowstorm! We’ve got wires down everywhere and after several days of snow, trees are still coming down. But it is really great getting to be restoring power to our customers – I find that very satisfying.”

GMP reports that this is the worst storm it has encountered in recent history for outages, surpassing the ice storm of 1998 and 2011’s Tropical Storm Irene. GMP has taken unprecedented steps to speed repairs, mobilizing more crews than ever before from all over the region and even calling in recent retirees to help manage crews and assist in the call center.

Roger Hill, meteorologist of Weathering Heights Consulting and Radio Vermont said, “This is the wettest snowfall I have ever experienced since coming to Vermont in 1986.  Normal nor’easters are typically powdery snow with a 20 to 1 snow to water ratio. Below 10 to 1 it starts to collect on lines and this storm is 5 to 1. I have never seen that combination in Vermont. There are 2 cubic inches landing on branches and power lines. This is more like an ice storm than a snow storm.”

The storm hit Tuesday night and again Thursday causing damage statewide impacting almost 134,000 customers in total.

“We’re urging Vermonters to continue using caution and doing what they do best in times like these: looking out for one another, checking in on their neighbors and making sure everyone is ok,” Governor Peter Shumlin said. “The second round of snow last night has increased power outages statewide, and while crews are working as fast as possible to get the lights turned on, it’s going to take some time. We’re keeping a close eye on the situation and the state will provide any assistance necessary to help Vermonters affected by this storm,” the governor added.

While outages are occurring statewide, Addison, Chittenden, Rutland, Washington and Windsor reported the highest number of customers without power starting Tuesday.

“This has been an incredibly difficult week for our customers who have been without power for such an extended period of time. There is light at the end of the tunnel and our teams will not stop working until service has been restored to all of our valued customers,” said Kristin Carlson, Green Mountain Power spokesperson. “We are so grateful for the patience and support we have received all across Vermont. It means a lot to our crews.” 

Dorothy Schnure, GMP spokesperson added: “We have amassed more crews than ever before to take care of our customers after this historic storm that is incredibly still causing outages even today. We’ve cut trees, replaced poles, restrung lines and restored power… We understand how challenging this is, especially for the elderly and those who have been without power for many days already. We urge Vermonters to take the necessary safety precautions and seek shelter if necessary.”

VTrans crews and equipment have also been out in force since before the first flakes hit the ground, working to keep roughly 6,000 miles of roadways clear despite changing conditions and variable snow, sleet and freezing rain. VTrans has deployed 250 primary plow trucks plus tow plows. All 25 reserve trucks have been deployed in addition to graders and other specialized equipment. Crews have been working straight since 4 a.m. Tuesday morning.

“We are working to stay on top of snowfall, and also working with chainsaws and mowers on downed trees throughout Vermont,” said Transportation Secretary Brian Searles. “We are working closely with the utilities to help ensure mobility for line repair crews. A marathon storm event like this one takes a heavy toll on equipment and our team has been doing admirable work to keep the fleet on the road at full strength.”

Customers may report outages by calling 1-888-835-4672, or at www.greenmountainpower.com.

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