Throughout the seasons, storms can cause electrical issues in your home and in the community due to a variety of factors. In winter, ice and snow buildup can lead to added strain by weighing down wires and can break hardware. In summer, lightning can strike lines, transformers, and other equipment, leading to damage or even equipment failure.
“If transformers get hit by lightning, it’ll damage the inside of them and they’ll either quit working altogether or it could create what we call a high voltage transformer. This means the voltage coming out of it is a lot higher than it should be,” said Kankakee Valley REMC Energy Services Specialist Darrell Marks.
Regardless of the season, storms often cause high winds that can fell a variety of electrical equipment, most commonly downing power lines. This can prove to be an especially prominent issue in summer when the trees have a full crown of leaves.
“In the summertime, you have the weight of the leaves, and that makes trees more top-heavy. It's like a sail on a boat; they catch more wind, so they're more likely to break and go over on the line,” Marks said. “You might see trees laying on the lines, pulling the lines down to the ground and not actually breaking them. When the extra weight is on the lines, it could break cross arms or insulators or some of the hardware on the pole.”
The best way to stay safe in the event of a downed power line is to keep as much distance between it and you as possible and call 911. You can call the local utility phone number if you know it, but calling 911 will allow you to connect with the local utility as well.
“Don’t ever assume that the line is dead because it could be lying there on the ground. It can be just as hot as ever with fully energized voltage even though it may not be making a spark or a buzz,” Marks said.
Marks warns against children playing close to power lines: if there is a downed power line in your backyard, don’t let your kids climb trees or fly kites as these objects can act as conductors. Kankakee Valley REMC has previously gone to schools in the Region to teach kids about the dangers of playing by power lines.
Tree branches are no less dangerous than the power line itself. While it may be someone’s instinct to jump in and help when they see a tree leaning against a power line, Marks cautions that it is best to wait for the utility service to arrive.
“A lot of times when people are out of power for two or three hours, they get antsy and want to try and help us out all they can. They get out their chainsaws and start cutting the tree, but if that line is energized, they could get electrocuted,” Marks said.
While downed power lines may be the main electrical issue that can result from storms, it is good to be aware of the signs of electrical issues in your own home. Fortunately, breakers are designed to momentarily interrupt power outages, which is why flickering can occur.
“Your lights may blink off one or two times. Usually, it goes out the third time,” Marks said. “If you can hear things chattering like your clock or your Directv box, that’s an indicator you should probably go ahead and shut off your mains to eliminate potential damage.”
If you do lose power, Marks advises keeping your fridge and freezer doors closed as most refrigerators can remain cold from six to eight hours.
For more electrical safety tips or to report an outage, visit Kankakee Valley REMC’s website.