Electric utilities are preparing for the possibility of widespread power outages if Hurricane Irma blows into the Carolinas next week. Forecasters say the mostly likely problem will be wind.
"North Carolinians should be ready, ready for heavy rain and inland wind damage that could result in downed trees and extended power outages," Nick Petro of the National Weather Service said at a press conference Thursday with North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper.
Petro said it's increasingly likely North Carolina will see significant tropical storm or hurricane impacts Monday into Tuesday. He said people should watch out for flash floods in the areas that are typically prone to them. But longer-lasting widespread flooding, as happened with Hurricane Matthew in eastern North Carolina last year, isn’t expected.
Cooper has declared a state of emergency, which took effect Thursday morning for all 100 N.C. counties. "We're preparing resources. We're putting response crews on standby. We're positioning resources across the state, once we know where the most serious impacts will be," Cooper said.
Power companies are getting ready, too. Duke Energy officials have set up a Joint Information Center in Charlotte to keep an eye on any troubles in the Carolinas and Florida.
"Right now our meteorologists are working with the National Hurricane Center and they're closely tracking that storm," said Duke Energy spokesman Tim Pettit.
"We're looking to get our resources ready - everything from line technicians to support personnel to make sure that we're in a position to respond, whether that's just to outages in Florida, or whether it's outages both in the Carolinas and Florida," Pettit said.
He said Irma is bringing big winds, which could lead to problems.
"No doubt we're going to see windy conditions across a large part of our service territory and with those windy conditions certainly comes the potential to bring down limbs and trees, and thus create power outages for us," Pettit said.
Many people are comparing Irma to major hurricanes of the past. Pettit remembers Hurricane Hugo, which cut a swath of damage across the Carolinas in 1989.
"When that happened, we had 700,000 outages here. And that was when we were just Duke Power, so we served kind of the Piedmont of North and South Carolina. Certainly today, we serve all of North Carolina, since we have merged with Progress Energy and became Duke Energy," he said.
As a bigger company, Duke now has 190,000 miles of power lines in the Carolinas. But Pettit said Duke also has more line crews. If needed, crews can be relocated to hardest-hit areas. Duke also works with other utilities to provide mutual assistance after big storms.
The picture may be better after major storms in the future, says Pettit. Back in April, the company announced a $13 billion plan to modernize the power grid over the next decade. That will include burying some lines and using technology to reroute power around outages.
Duke Energy - web page on Restoring your power
Duke Energy outage page - list of current outages
Energy United storm center and outage information
April 12, 2017, "Duke Plans $13B In Upgrades to Power Grid Over 10 Years."