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MED customers remain in power; officials say 2013 vs. 1998 ice storm is no comparison

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MASSENA - Despite an intense storm over the weekend that saw thousands across the county lose power, the Massena Electric Department has reported that none of their customers went dark.

“We were on edge. We had a lot of communication discussing the weather, but ultimately it was very quiet. Nobody lost power,” MED Superintendent Andrew J. McMahon said. “There were some calls for low lines and trees on wires. They have all been addressed.”

St. Lawrence County last saw an ice storm of this magnitude in January 1998. The Red Cross opened its Emergency Operation Center at 1 p.m. Sunday for the first time since the 1998 storm.

While thousands are still recovering from the 2013 performance of “St. Lawrence County On Ice,” Mr. McMahon said that this storm, particularly in Massena, was not comparable.

“It does not compare. In 1998 we were hit by the storm. As I recall, the storm whacked us for four or five days and was largely freezing rain. At one point or another all of our customers were impacted by the ‘98 storm,” Mr. McMahon said. “Our incoming supply was knocked out for some time and trees and branches were strained by over inches of ice. This time, we had ice pellets that were not sticking to our lines the way freezing rain does so I guess we had 1/4 to 1/2 of an inch.”

National Weather Service meteorologist William Hanley reported that Potsdam accumulated 1 1/4 inches of ice as of Sunday afternoon. Mr. Hanley also reported 1 inch in Gouverneur Sunday morning, 1/2 of an inch in Ogdensburg Sunday morning, and 1/2 of an inch in Parishville Saturday night.

Mr. McMahon noted that the 1998 storm had a lasting effect on MED.

“The staff at MED was scrambling for weeks after the ’98 storm even though the customers didn’t have much impact after the first couple days,” he said. “We do have tough weather to deal with periodically. This past summer we had a storm that uprooted trees and that knocked a couple of our lines out. We had a couple large areas that were impacted by the July storm for four or five hours. That July storm was as bad as it has gotten in a while.

“When storms like ’98 hit or the wind storm this past July, or any severe weather - all you can do is assess the damage and start to put things back together. You make safety your priority, trust your training and do the best you can. If you have done your maintenance through the years and have done good storm prep. it will limit the customer impact, but there is not much you can when a good storm comes down on you.”

Mr. McMahon also pointed out that despite many preventative measures taken by MED, sometimes a storm will cause many outages.

“MED is constantly investing in our system to make it more reliable. Whether it is new poles, fusing to limit impact areas or installing reclosers to enable more rapid response. We are also preventing outages by properly cutting trees and clearing ground debris,” he said.

“However, periodically we are going to experience storms that will cause outages. When we have time to prepare, as we did with this storm, we went through steps to make sure that not only we would be ready for a storm, but so were our contractors. We also reached out to other municipals to alert them that we had a storm bearing down on us and we might need their assistance. Happily we did not have to make the calls for assistance.

“We were also in regular contact with (Massena Police Chief) Timmy Currier, who does a great job leading the local response. He is well prepared, well organized and a great communicator. He does a great job of knowing when to react without over reacting.”

The superintendent added while snow and rain is always a hassle, nothing is worse than freezing rain.

“The more ice that is involved the more dangerous it is for us just to get around. From a system impact point of view freezing rain is about as bad as it gets,” he said. “This storm Saturday was more ice pellets, which were dangerous but did not adhere as much to our lines. We had some freezing rain Sunday from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. it seems, but fortunately, not enough to impact the system.”

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