Watching storm pass on a power outage map: ‘It’s spooky.’

While Laurens Electric continues to monitor and prepare, co-ops in the low-country are already experiencing power outages.

A slow-motion movie plays on the electric cooperatives’ outage map, as predictions turn to reality and Hurricane Florence tracks inland, back down the coast and inland again. Power outages will follow.

The counties will turn from green, with the fewest outages, to yellow then orange and then red, showing more than 1,000 outages. The yellow, orange and red colors will spread from Horry County, already in the red Friday morning, then southward and westward.

“It’s spooky,” said Peggy Dantzler, the director of compliance and emerging technologies education at the state association of electric cooperatives. “You don’t even need the weather radar overlay with that swirling funnel image. In a high-wind event, outages tell their own story.”

Wind and trees are a power-punch to overhead electric systems. As the wind pushes over trees onto power lines, the weight puts a tremendous pull on the poles holding them up. At some point the poles—eight inches in diameter at the top—snap. Or the cross-arms, the timbers where the wires are attached, break.

A span of wire from one pole to the next weighs less than 50 pounds, heavy enough without the extra pull of fallen trees, but eventually too heavy to bear.

For electric cooperative operations managers, watching the outage map may be an interesting exercise, but it does not help restore power.

“All those digital images don’t substitute for seeing the damage first-hand,” said Burroughs Nobles, manager of operations at Horry Electric Cooperative. “The operations managers are anxious to get assessment teams into the field to see the damage, but that’s possible only after the storm passes.”

Hundreds of right-of-way workers and line workers from other states—almost 800 as of Friday— converge on electric cooperatives in the damage zones, so local cooperatives must manage the repair operation carefully to make the most efficient use of the help. They need the right people with the right equipment in the right place.

What’s the most frustrating part of the job right now? “Waiting,” said Nobles. “And hoping that outage map doesn’t get too red for too long.”

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