CHARLESTON, W.Va. — It’s one of those events you remember where you were. Everybody in West Virginia can readily tell you how they rode out the 2012 Derecho. The storm crossed West Virginia more than 100 miles wide and moving at 70 miles an hour three years ago Monday.
“I was at my son’s baseball game in Charleston,” said Phil Moye, spokesman for Appalachian Power. “We rode out the storm and I just came straight back to the office knowing I’d have a lot to do. When I turned on my computer and saw that AEP, our parent company, had 1.2 million customers without power over our seven state region that’s when it really hit home to me just how massive in scope this storm was.”
The storm knocked out power to 53 of the states 55 counties. Only the most northern tip of the northern panhandle was spared the destruction. It was a storm unlike anything most had ever experienced in West Virginia.
“It was the most destructive storm Appalachian Power has ever seen,” said Moye. “We serve nearly a Million customers in West Virginia and Virginia and on that day more than half of those customers were left without power as a result of that storm. It’s probably the closest we’ve come to a hurricane in West Virginia.”
The storm not only brought down neighborhood power lines, but large 760kv transmission towers were flattened in some parts of West Virginia.
Cooling stations were established as the storm was immediately followed by a heat wave which pushed temperatures to near 100 degrees for a week. The power outage lasted for almost a week for most customers and for some, it was two weeks in the dark.
West Virginians first world problems they’d never seen. Generators were sold out almost immediately. Those fortunate enough to have one faced the difficult problem of gas stations shutdown with now power to run their pumps. Paying for anything became a problem with credit card and ATM machines out of power.
Appalachian Power had its own difficulties.
“It affected customers across a seven state area so the grab for resources was tremendous,” Moye recalled. “Just trying to get crews in here to help out was crazy. Then we were dealing with the same problems everybody else had, no gasoline and no electricity in many cases.”
Line crews from as far away as Mississippi, Kansas, and Texas were soon headed toward West Virginia. Many from the Gulf Coast remembered West Virginia’s assistance the wake of Hurricane Katrina and were glad to return the favor. The National Guard was activated statewide armed with chainsaws and heavy equipment to start clearing a path for the line crews into the most remote spots in the state.
Residents fired up their barbecue grills and cooked as much meat as they could, but for many it was too much. Garbage collection companies set up special collection points for residents to dump ruined food from their refrigerators and freezers. It was painful to watch a dozen rib-eye steaks get swallowed in the rancid jaws of a packer truck.
The storm taught a lot of lessons. The state’s response with the National Guard stood out, but was refined with lessons learned. Residents started to pay much more attention to self-reliance by better preparing themselves for difficult times with generators,stockpiles of water and non-perishable food, along with a reserve of fuel and cash money. Appalachian Power came away with two distinct changes in how it operated, improvements in line right-of-way maintenance and better customer communication.
“We’ve implemented a cycle trimming program where every four years we go in and trim each of our distribution circuits from end to end,” Moye said. “We’ve implemented a thing called outage alerts. They can sign up at appalachianpower.com and all through the process of a power outage it will give you updates.”