Photo showing downed power lines after Hurricane Arthur last July. Photo by C. Leinbach

By  Peter Vankevich and Connie Leinbach

More than 1,000 Ocracoke residents were without power Friday night when “galloping lines” caused electric circuits to cut off from 6:38 until 12:50 a.m. Saturday.

“Galloping” power lines are mostly a Midwestern phenomenon that occur with high winds and ice,” said Heidi Smith, Tideland Electric Cooperative spokesperson, who also sent several text messages to customers about the situation.

Friday night, “galloping lines” were found in Buxton behind the Fessenden Center.

“The ice forms little hydrofoils which give the lines lift,” she said. Then, when the lines slap together that kicks off the breaker.

Once workers found this section of line, they had to wade into the marsh where the poles are located, climb them and shake the ice off the lines. After that, workers were able to secure one of the lines preventing further contact between them and enabling power restoration, she said.

Smith explained Monday that power was out from Oregon Inlet to Ocracoke. While crews tried to find the cause, both Tideland and Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative tried to get each of their generators working on a below-freezing night on the Outer Banks.  More than 7,500 customers from Hatteras to Oregon Inlet were affected in addition to those in Ocracoke.

Before the Hatteras crews discovered the “galloping lines,” Tideland attempted to fire up Ocracoke’s generator, but each time, the load was too heavy to sustain it, she said.  On the island, the electric distribution is in three grids, she said, and they decided to power the northwest grid, which they thought would have the least load and which includes the ferry office.

“Ocracoke’s generator is 3 megawatts and when we turned it on (that sector) was pulling 2.8 megawatts and it tripped out,” she said.

She then sent more text messages asking customers to conserve and turn off turn off all unnecessary appliances, but still, the load was too heavy.

Smith said that an Ocracoke customer emailed her as to why the load was so heavy here at this time of the year, and that everyone “winterizes” their rental cottages.

Smith did not have an answer for that.

“The (electric) loads are getting higher and higher,” Smith said about Tideland’s customers in its six-county region.

She did note that in the last few years, after the cost of propane rose dramatically, many Tideland customers have purchased space heaters to heat their homes.

“Before the big temperature drop back on Feb. 19, I called every big-box store in our six counties asking if they had any electric space heaters in stock, and there were none,” she said.

Besides the safety issues of heating homes solely with space heaters, Smith said Tideland is concerned about the additional electric load.

Moreover, while a space heater may be inexpensive to purchase, they are not cheap to run.

“I had one woman call me who said she ran her space heater 24-7 and wondered why her monthly bill was $118,” Smith said.

One house she went to in Pamlico County had six space heaters, and at another one, a customer had placed a space heater outside to warm three potted plants, she said.

Space heaters can trip breakers, cause outlets to get brown and melt (wire) insulation leading to fires, she said.

Poor, or non-existent, flooring insulation is one cause of cold houses in these parts, she said, and consumers could decrease heating costs by beefing this up in their homes.

The Observer found an explanation of the “galloping lines” phenomenon from North West REC, an electric co-op in Iowa, including  a warning to stay clear of the power lines if you encounter them:

“The term “galloping power lines” may sound ridiculous, but this condition really does occur, and it can cause a dangerous situation. The most common cause of galloping lines is ice that builds up on one side of a power line as a result of strong winds. This buildup creates an airfoil, which changes the flow of air around the normally round line. This change in air flow can cause the power line to start to bounce. These lines can bounce and buck enough to hit another line, damage themselves enough to cause a power outage, or even fall to the ground.
Once galloping begins, there is not much your electric cooperative can do to alleviate it until winds die down. This is why many power lines have objects, such as twisted wire or round or angular pieces of metal, attached to the line. These are devices placed on the power lines to help reduce the potential for lines to gallop. 

If you encounter power lines that are swaying or bucking dangerously, stay away, warn others to stay away and contact your utility right away.  

In addition to the possibility of power outages, there is a danger of the lines or other electrical equipment breaking loose and falling and of ice being dislodged from the lines and falling on–and damaging–surrounding objects.”

 YouTube has a good example of this effect with this video posted by MrSciencetificsasuke  here.  

Tideland EMC co-op members can register to get automatic outage updates via text messaging or email notification.

 To activate the text messaging service from a mobile phone simply text the letters TEMC to short code 85700. A confirmation text message will be immediately sent. To complete the activation process, the member’s Tideland EMC account number must be entered and sent.  

One can also activate the service online by going to http://www.tidelandemc. com and completing the online form which provides an option to receive notifications by email as well as text messages

 To discontinue the text messaging service at any time simply text STOP to short code 85700 or reply STOP to any text message received.

Standard text messaging rates apply according to the terms of the mobile service provider’s contract. Alerts will be sent only when conditions warrant. Text HELP to short code 85700 for more information.


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