Holly, jolly, stormy


A new BC Hydro report finds that over the last five winter holiday seasons storms are becoming stronger and causing more power outages.

The report, titled “Storms Actually: How BC Hydro is preparing for increasing holiday storms” includes new BC Hydro data that shows the average number of customers affected by a winter holiday storm – from mid-December to mid-January has risen over 500% compared to the previous five years. From 2012 to 2016, the average number of customers affected by a holiday storm was over 45,000. In the past five years, the average number of customers affected rose to over 300,000.

Image: Patrick Bald - Unsplash

“Holiday season storms are increasing mainly because of climate change, and this is something BC Hydro has been preparing for by increasing staffing and other measures,” said Susie Rieder BC Hydro spokesperson.

“BC Hydro has experienced at least one storm causing significant damage to its system almost every year during the holiday season for the past decade, including the worst storm in its history that happened just before Christmas in 2018, impacting over 750,000 customers.”

The most damaging storm in BC Hydro’s history was a windstorm that happened just before Christmas in 2018. It impacted over 750,000 customers across the province. Winds came from three different directions, topping 100 km per hour in some areas. More than 400 mm of rain fell in some areas in the week before the storm, weakening soil and destabilizing trees.

Over half of all power outages in B.C. are caused by adverse weather and trees or branches contacting power lines or electrical equipment. The winter can be challenging as heavy snow and ice can weigh down tree branches, causing them to fall into electrical lines or equipment. High winds can also knock down vegetation and trees, causing outages.

Holiday disruptions


With holiday outages becoming more likely, it is not surprising that 90% of British Columbians have experienced at least one weather-related power outage over the winter holiday season in recent years – almost half of those in just the last two years.

Of those who have experienced a winter holiday power outage, 20% said it changed their holiday plans, with those living on Vancouver Island the most likely to have had to make a change.

When it comes to holiday festivities such as dinners and parties, 36% said a power outage had some, but not much impact on their celebrations, and even though many (22%) noted that the outage occurred while they were cooking a big holiday meal, only 1% said it truly ruined their plans. Vancouver Islanders were again the most likely to have experienced a cooking disruption (26%), followed by those in the Southern Interior (23%). However, even with the possibility of a disrupted holiday, almost 60% said they want to see snow fall over the winter holidays.

Solutions

One of the ways BC Hydro is preparing this holiday season is by increasing staffing and the number of BC Hydro and contractor line crews on standby during the holidays to restore power as quickly as possible should the lights go out.
BC Hydro is also stepping up vegetation management work year-round to identify problem areas and removing vegetation that has grown too close to power lines or electrical equipment.

BC Hydro has also increased its stock of spare equipment and materials. Supply chain disruptions have reinforced the importance of establishing a healthy level of redundancy in our materials management. This is particularly important over the holiday season with shipping delays and some business closures.

As BC Hydro continues to experience more weather-related system damage, it is more important than ever that customers be prepared for the possibility of holiday power outages – the majority of which are caused by trees and adverse weather. As for snow, it can be nice to look at, but snow and ice can weigh down trees and branches, which can lead to them falling on to BC Hydro’s electrical lines or equipment.

Customers can prepare for potential outages by:

  • Having a well-stocked emergency kit with supplies for each member of the household for at least 72 hours.
  • Developing a preparedness plan and sharing it with everyone in your home.
  • Checking emergency equipment periodically (flashlights, radios, generators, etc.) to make sure they are in working order.
  • Using surge protectors to protect your electronic devices such as computers, printers, and televisions.
  • Developing a list of important local telephone numbers. Include numbers for police, fire, poison control centre and include us to report an outage: 1 800 BCHYDRO (1 800 224 9376).

To check on the status of an outage, visit bchydro.com/outages.

Graphic from Storms, Actually — BC Hydro Report, December 2022

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