Low temps may cause outages

PARKERSBURG – Local utilities urge preparation and caution as below-zero temperatures settle over the Mid-Ohio Valley on Monday and Tuesday, officials said.

Turning up the heat to counter the bitter cold could result in sporadic power outages from equipment failure, said Todd Meyers, spokesman for Mon Power.

When the temperatures plummet, the demand for electricity goes up, Meyers said. This demand taxes the equipment just the same as a heat wave in summer, except cold temperatures are harder for the equipment to deal with than hot temperatures.

The highest risk for equipment failure, and subsequent power outages, will be on Monday morning, Meyers said.

The cold front that will pass over the Mid-Ohio Valley will be similar to the one that dropped several inches of snow on Thursday evening, said meteorologist Kevin McGarth with the National Weather Service in Charleston.

The Arctic air mass will bring with it several inches of snow, said McGarth. But, unlike the system from Thursday, the one tonight will bring Arctic air behind it, causing temperatures to plummet as low as 10 below on Monday evening, with a wind chill factor of negative 30, McGarth said.

This blast of cold air means that people will be reaching for their thermostats, said Meyers. As people turn up the heat, the chances for problems to develop will increase.

“There is no problem with one person turning up the thermostat by a couple degrees when it gets cold,” Meyers said. “But when hundreds of thousands of people turn up the heat all at once, it can cause equipment to malfunction.”

These malfunctions can lead to sporadic power failures throughout the cold snap, he said.

To reduce your home’s strain on the electric grid during the Arctic temperatures, lower your thermostat to 68 degrees for the duration and wear warmer clothing, Meyers said. Every degree below 68 will reduce your home’s energy demands by 3 percent, he added.

The electricity used by hundreds of thousands of people turning up the heat and powering on their water heaters around the same time to prepare for work on Monday morning will cause a surge in power demand that might tax the equipment beyond its breaking point in some places, Meyers said.

Due to the cold temperatures, Mon Power is urging everyone in the Mid-Ohio Valley to prepare for the possibility of a power outage, he said.

Drapes, blinds, and garage doors should be closed at night during this severe cold snap. Opening the blinds and drapes during the day can allow some solar heat into the house, but they should be closed at sundown to prevent heat from radiating from the home, Meyers said.

Each person in the home should have extra blankets or sleeping bags available. In the event of a power failure, dress in layers to preserve your body heat, he said.

A three-day supply of food and water should be available for everyone in your home. This includes food that does not need to be heated in order to be eaten.

Frozen pipes can be avoided by leaving faucets dripping, even once the hot water is gone, said Meyers. Exposed pipes can be wrapped in layers of newspaper to insulate them in an emergency.

All electronic devices such as cell phones and laptops should be kept charged throughout the cold spell, Meyers said. A flashlight and emergency radio with extra batteries should be kept close by, he said.

In the event of a power outage, staying warm must be taken seriously, said Capt. Tim Flinn with the Parkersburg Fire Department.

Gas stoves, charcoal grills, generators and lanterns intended for outdoor use should never be used in the home, regardless of how cold it is, Flinn said. All sources of outdoor heating should be kept outdoors at all times. Candles should be avoided as sources of light or heat in closed-off spaces due to carbon monoxide and fire hazards, he said.

If the power should fail for an extended period, check to see if your family or friends have power when you do not, Flinn said. All smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors should have their batteries checked this weekend, before the cold temperatures arrive, he added.

If a widespread power outage occurs, listen for notices of local shelters opening, and take advantage of the services offered there, Flinn said.

Mon Power checked its equipment during the annual fall inspection, said Meyers. This inspection allowed personnel to find weak points in the machinery and lines. The fall inspection includes using thermal readers on large equipment to check for possible overheating issues.

However, the fall inspection can only find problems that are present when the inspection takes place, Meyers said. Problems may have developed since the inspection which could result in sporadic power outages.

Mon Power has crews on alert to handle any power outage quickly next week, Meyers said. Power outages should be reported by calling 1-888-LIGHTSS (544-4877) or by clicking on “report outage” on Mon Power’s website at www.firstenergycorp.com on your smartphone.