SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) – This week marks the 15th anniversary of one of the most significant weather events in the Ozarks: the great ice storm of 2007.
And one of the biggest changes brought about by that severe winter weather can be seen around town even today.
On Monday for instance you could see it going on in the 2100 block of South Lone Pine as crews contracted out by City Utilities were busy trimming trees in the neighborhood.
For many people who lived in the Springfield area 15 years ago the topic of the ice storm brings a grimace and a chill down the spine as the beauty of ice crystals hanging from trees, bushes and rooftops were overshadowed by the storm’s devastation.
Except for the sound of chain saws and tree branches breaking off, Springfield’s streets were eerily quiet in mid-January 2007 as the city was cocooned in an inch-and-a-half of ice that started on January 12. when tree branches started to knock down power lines and transformers blew up.
As the icy precipitation came in intermittent waves over the next three days, the ice-covered tree branches started to knock down power lines and transformers blew up. More than 75,000 City Utilities customers would be without electricity. About three-quarters of CU’s system went down including 330 power poles that had to be replaced. Many residents would go without electricity for weeks, forced to search for hotels or family and friends who did have power.
The lack of electricity and cold weather also resulted in damage to homes from bursting water pipes or trees falling on roofs.
“That was an event that was hard to explain unless you lived through it,” recalled Joel Alexander, the Media-Energy Services Manager for City Utilities.
The region’s power companies as well as the emergency management teams in the area learned a lot from the horrible experience that’s helped them deal with major events since then.
“It really rewrote our entire operations plan,” said Larry Woods, the Director of Springfield-Greene County Emergency Management in a 2020 interview.
For City Utilities one of the main considerations was to try and figure out how to keep the same thing from happening the next time a large ice event came around.
“You can’t stop outages from happening,” Alexander said. “But leading into 2007 there had been a little lapse on tree trimming due to budgetary constraints and since 2007 we’ve definitely come up on that more aggressively. We’re trying to get on a cycle of trimming trees every five years throughout the entire community. This year in particular we’ve got around a $4 million budget that’s allocated specifically for tree trimming.”
Those contracted crews are trained arborists who do this kind of work all around the country.
“Years ago we had our own tree trimming crews but this is more cost-effective and these crews do it for many utilities,” Alexander explained. “They’re all trained and know exactly what they’re doing.”
But CU’s tree trimming policy has certainly upset a lot of people over the years who view the activity as an overreach and an assault on the area’s lush vegetation and beauty.
“Without a doubt, it’s probably the most controversial thing we do in the electric department,” Alexander admitted. “Springfield loves its trees but at the same time everyone wants their power and they want it to be reliable. What a lot of folks don’t realize is there’s an easement (a right to cross or otherwise use someone else’s land for a specified purpose) we have on the power line to where the minimum is ten feet. And based upon how far and how much power those lines carry, that can expand to 20-25 feet. So the more voltage you have on there the further that distance is going to be. Some folks may say the trees look terrible after we’re done but I guarantee you they’re going to grow back in a way that’s going to keep that tree from growing back into the power lines, protect the reliability of your power and also keep that tree healthy as well.”
Alexander said the complaints have gone down over the years after residents saw how the tree trimming did result in fewer outages.
And CU is trying to address the problem in other ways too.
“We continue to put underground utilities if it’s allowed where new developments are,” Alexander said. “We’re continuing with new infrastructure to improve the reliability and dependability of the service.”
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