West Penn Power: Fixing electric lines will be a ‘multiday event’ in Westmoreland Co., region
Pastor Tim Stradling stepped up to the microphone at 10:50 a.m. Sunday to kick off the second service at Armbrust Wesleyan Church. Before he could get out his first sentence, he heard an unwelcome thump.
“That’s the noise our sound system makes when everything goes out,” said Stradling, who continued his morning with an “unplugged” church service.
Stradling and his family have the good fortune to own a wood-burning stove in the basement of the church’s parsonage.
“My sons are carrying extra firewood, and the basement is a toasty 62 degrees,” he said.
Not everyone without power is so fortunate.
By 8 p.m. Monday, about 12,660 West Penn Power customers in Westmoreland County remained without electricity because of damage caused when heavy winds ripped through the region the day before, the utility reported. The wind storms downed trees, poles and wires, forced school cancellations and two-hour delays and kept emergency responders busy attempting to make repairs amid difficult conditions. The utility reported that about 40,000 customers remained without power statewide.
“Since noon (on Sunday), we’ve had about 130,000 customers impacted by the storm,” West Penn spokesman Todd Meyers said.
A triangle-shaped area formed by Jeannette, Greensburg and New Stanton appeared to be have been the hardest-hit in Westmoreland.
The wind was the leading edge of a cold front that made its way across the United States, bringing snow and wind.
“This is the storm that made it snow in Vegas, and we got the jackpot as well with this wind,” Meyers said. “This storm covered our whole footprint.”
West Penn’s parent company, FirstEnergy, reported about a quarter-million customers across the Northeast were impacted by the weather system.
“We’re still assessing damage. We’re still getting new outages, and right now I can’t give a time when we’ll have everything back online,” Meyers said. “All I can say for sure is it will be a multiday event.”
Additional manpower can make a big difference in rapidly restoring electricity, and Meyers said it is in short supply.
“Ohio got slammed as well, and so we couldn’t borrow line crews from Ohio to help out here,” he said. “It was a similar situation to the south. It’s hard to get mutual assistance.”
Meyers said additional contractors from Maryland and Georgia would be making their way to Western Pennsylvania to help out.
Another major issue with getting power lines back in safe, working condition is continued wind gusts.
“The bucket trucks can operate up to about 40 mph,” Meyers said. “Once the wind gets above that, it’s not safe. The boom and the truck can become unstable.”
When line crews are handling material or putting up a new wire, the threshold drops to about 30 mph, he said.
Add to that a weather system that affected two-thirds of West Penn’s substations and 65 percent of its distribution circuits, and the result is a situation where line crews are forced to prioritize fixes.
“Sometimes, the outages that can last longer into the week are the ones where only a handful of customers are affected,” Meyers said. “We just ask that people try to be patient. This cold front came through with some potent wind, and it just kept going.”
Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, [email protected] or via Twitter .