Power may not be restored until next week for some in southeast Michigan
Detroit — The state's top energy providers warned Thursday, as nearly 714,000 customers were without power across southern Michigan, that some might not have electricity until the middle of next week, prompting calls by local leaders for further explanation of the high number of outages in Metro Detroit.
More:Rains, storms flood areas of Metro Detroit; 850K+ without power across Michigan
DTE estimated 700,000 customers had been affected by two waves of severe weather and said crews had restored power to more than 150,000 by Thursday night. More than 1,800 DTE personnel and another 1,000 out-of-state line crews were involved in restoration efforts, officials said.
The utility said it was "targeting to have more than 80% of customers restored by the end of Saturday. The vast majority of outages — around 95% — should be restored by the end of Sunday."
High winds were a big part of the problem. DTE is repairing some 3,100 downed power lines, broken poles and tree-related damage. The utility reported more than 250,000 without power early Friday afternoon.
At one point, more than 850,000 customers lost power across the state.
Consumers Energy, meanwhile, reported early Friday afternoon it had more than 140,000 customers without electricity. Contractors and crews from seven states have helped restore power to some of the 371,000 who had been affected since storms started Tuesday night, the company reported.
"Over 550 three- and four-person crews remain at work around the clock and will work through the night heading into Friday," the company said late Thursday. "Their goal: Restore power to most homes and businesses by late Saturday night and finish almost all of their work by the end of the weekend."
Most Consumers Energy customers who don’t have power were expected to have electricity restored by Saturday, but some outages will last further into the weekend, said Garrick Rochow, president and CEO of the utility.
“This has been a busy week for our lineworkers and those who have joined us from as far away as New York and Missouri. We’re encouraged to see their progress and plan to keep up the pace to get the lights back on,” said Guy Packard, Consumers Energy’s vice president for electric operations. “We are grateful for the patience of our friends and neighbors, and want them to know we won’t stop working until this restoration effort is complete.”
More:DTE power outage map
One community's mayor and a legislator called for DTE to explain the level of outages. Farmington Hills Mayor Vicki Barnett said the utility promised in 2007 to complete tree-trimming within five years. It did not happen, she said.
“What we are told will happen and what they deliver is very different,” Barnett said.
She said the city is considering pursuing a formal complaint with the Michigan Public Service Commission.
“We need a stable grid people can rely on, where power doesn’t go out every time it rains,” Barnett said.
She and her daughter, state Rep. Samantha Steckloff, D-Farmington Hills, met Thursday with DTE officials. Steckloff said the problem in Farmington Hills is the “continuous outages,” which can last “five or six days.”
DTE said it had a "productive discussion with community officials" on Thursday but did not address the tree trimming issue in a request for comment by The Detroit News.
“We look forward to continuing to work together to address the concern of our customers," said Marquia Mann, a spokeswoman for the utility. "As always, DTE remains committed to delivering safe, reliable and affordable energy for all our customers — during these periods of extreme weather, and beyond.”
DTE said Thursday it has crews working 16-hour shifts around the clock, including contractors from other states and Canada. Hospitals and fire stations will get first priority, the company said at a press conference at 4 p.m. in Oak Park. After that, the utility said it will focus on large-scale outages and high-voltage power lines that went down.
Consumers said the storm system downed 4,500 wires and "ranks among the top 10 storms in our company’s 135-year history,” said Guy Packard, Consumers Energy’s vice president for electric operations.
“I could not be more impressed by the patience shown by our customers affected by these damaging waves of storms, and I want them to know we will not stop working extended shifts day and night until our restoration is complete and the lights are back on for every one of our customers.”
Packard said the company will be prioritizing residents who lost power during the storm as well as hospitals, nursing homes and other critical customers.
With winter just months away, Barnett encouraged the utility to act fast to tend to the trees in her city. “If they don’t get the trees trimmed now, Mother Nature is going to do it for them,” she said.
Barnett said between the pandemic, the power outages and the flooding some homes are experiencing, people are experiencing a lot of turmoil.
“You get concerned about the mental health of people,” Barnett said.
DTE Energy is the energy provider for 2.2 million homes and businesses, mostly in southeast Michigan. Consumers Energy provides energy to another 1.8 million homes and businesses beyond Metro Detroit. Together they cover most households in the state.
Residents on Thursday also were trying to deal with the outages and the heat. Paul Sadler, 68, of Garden City said he has been without power since the first of the storms moved through Wednesday afternoon.
"We’re lucky to have a generator, but it ran out of gas in the middle of the night. So we don’t have AC but we’re a lot better off than other folks," he said Thursday afternoon.
"But by tomorrow, we're going to have to rent a hotel (room)."
In Berkley, in south Oakland County, it was the intensity of the rains that posed problems, the city said. About an inch of rain fell in a 20-minute time span, the city reported, and wind gusts hit 70 miles per hour.
Anywhere from 3-5 inches of rain fell in most parts of the region Thursday.
Detroit Metro Airport in Romulus measured 2.73 inches, a record for Aug. 12 and beating the previous high mark, 2.46, set in 2013, according to the National Weather Service.
The weather service issued nine severe thunderstorm warnings, two flash flood warnings and three special marine warnings ahead of the storms.
The storms marked the first time in Detroit the weather service used a "destructive" storm warning, a new label as of Aug. 2. About 10% of severe thunderstorms nationwide are "destructive," the weather service said.
The DTE Energy outage map showed massive residential chunks of Berkley, a city of 15,000, without power, off 12 Mile and west of Woodward. The city said it was "triaging" multiple issues at once, including downed power lines, medical emergencies and tree damage.
Cycle of destruction
During an event with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in Okemos on Thursday afternoon, Consumers' Rochow said while much of Michigan had been affected by the storms, the hardest-hit areas were south of Interstate 94. High winds hit such places as Coldwater, Marshall and Hillsdale on Thursday morning, he said.
Talking to reporters, Whitmer said Michigan had experienced a "nonstop barrage of extreme weather."
“There are many who are stressed out and exhausted from this,” Whitmer said. “We’re going to do everything we can to help keep people safe and help them recover.”
A string of bad weather has brought rain, flooding, tornadoes and power outages this summer.
Rainstorms June 25-26 dumped as much as 6 inches of rain in Metro Detroit over a five-hour span. Thousands of residents in Detroit, Dearborn and Dearborn Height as well as sections of the Grosse Pointe communities experienced basement backups, and some roadways flooded.
President Joe Biden last month granted Whitmer's request for a major disaster declaration for the state. Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster assistance teams have made door-to-door visits in several cities to register affected residents for potential aid.
On July 7, a strong line of thunderstorms with high winds struck parts of Oakland Macomb counties. Some areas saw 60 mph wind gusts; at one point, more than 100,000 people across Michigan lost power.
Rainfall in mid-July also flooded several areas in the region. Detroit Metro Airport recorded 2.20 inches of rainfall on July 16, breaking the daily precipitation record.
The next weekend, July 24-25, brought tornadoes in White Lake, Armada and Armada Township. Port Austin was also struck with a twister that weekend as well as in June.
More:Consumer's Energy power outage map
Ayana Edwards of Westland said Thursday that flooding and power outages that affect her cellphone usage have been a challenge all summer.
"I don't put anything in the basement anymore because I'm afraid of losing or getting anything damaged in that area," she said. "I’m just kind of scared to put anything down there."
She said the cycle of bad weather has discouraged her.
"We've done a lot of work to try to raise the landscape here, but you can still see some of the water area; we keep trying to add more and more dirt, more soil or whatever, to kind of raise it but usually my backyard floods as well."
Heat was also an issue Thursday. Temperatures climbed in the upper 80s in Metro Detroit, while the heat index soared in the 90s. Areas across extreme southern Michigan under a heat advisory included Niles, Benton Harbor, St. Joseph, Fair Plain, Benton Heights, Buchanan, Paw Paw Lake, Dowagiac, Cassopolis, Edwardsburg, Marcellus, Sturgis, Three Rivers, White Pigeon, Mendon, Coldwater, Bronson and Hillsdale.
High temperatures can account for slower response times as Packard said Consumers is demanding the crews working 16-hour shifts take breaks to hydrate in order to continue working safely.
Reminder of storms past
In March 2017, high winds left 1.15 million Michigan homes and businesses without power. About 2,000 of them were left without power for a week.
The Michigan Public Service Commission required DTE Energy and Consumers to report back on why the failure occurred, what they did to stop it and what would change.
Among the commission's questions, according to DTE's 40-page response: why the southeast Michigan energy provider was "disproportionately" hard hit.
DTE had 749,511 homes and business lose power. The windstorm was the largest weather event in its history, in part because it was greatly underestimated, the utility explained.
While DTE's worst-case scenario training covers a 500,000-customer outage, DTE only estimated that 50,000 to 100,000 customers would be affected in the March 7 windstorm.
Instead, the wind kept blowing.
"For 14 hours, southern Michigan experienced sustained tropical force wind gusts," claimed the DTE report.
In the end, nearly eight times as many customers lost power than DTE's upper-level estimate.
The number of outages DTE predicted was not high enough to request workers from other states via Great Lakes Mutual Aid, the report said. No such request was made until the damage was done.
The restoration effort took nine days. Though 90% of customers were restored by that Sunday, there were 5,500 single-customer outages. The final customer didn't get power back until March 16.
DTE said that while 15% to 30% of the outages were preventable, if its tree-trimming effort ran to specification, 95% of the tree damage owed to coniferous trees that were uprooted.
Things weren't quite as bad for Consumers. About 358,000 of its customers lost power, or roughly 20%. By that Sunday night, 99% of its customers had their lights back on.
The storms were only its 15th-largest outage, according to its 96-page report to the state.
While DTE had a large amount of single-customer outages, Consumers' challenge was geography, as it had 10 counties — Allegan, Barry, Calhoun, Genesee, Ionia, Jackson, Lenawee, and Saginaw — with upwards of 10,000 outages each.
Final restoration took place Monday, March 13, six days after the windstorm.
Staff Writers Craig Mauger, Hani Barghouthi, Mark Hicks and Noelle Gray contributed.