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More than 685,000 without power after 'historic' storm dumps ice, snow on Michigan

Hundreds of thousands of Michigan residents were without power Thursday after a "historic" ice and snowstorm moved through the state, sparking thunder, downing thousands of ice-coated power lines and forcing school districts to cancel classes for a second day.

DTE Energy had more than 485,000 customers in the dark as of 6 a.m. Friday, mainly in Wayne and Washtenaw counties. Consumers Energy, meanwhile, reported over 8,000 downed wires and almost 189,000 customers affected by power outages as of 6 a.m. Friday across Michigan. Many were clustered between Kalamazoo and Jackson. More than 80% of Hillsdale County was in the dark.

Since customers are defined as households, up to 1.75 million people were without power at 4 p.m Thursday.

"For a lot of Metro Detroit, it has been several years since they’ve seen any type of icing of this magnitude," said Steve Considine, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service station in White Lake Township.

DTE Energy President Trevor Lauer said the storm downed nearly 3,200 lines, and officials are worried about people coming into contact with lines as they begin cleanup. DTE had restored power to 100,000 customers by Thursday afternoon but the number of outages continues to rise, Lauer said. Around 70,000 DTE customers lost power after the utility intentionally shut it off to work on downed wires safely, Lauer said. They expect to restore power to those customers today.

"We're in the midst of a historic ice storm," Lauer said. "We've not had an ice storm in the last 50 years that has impacted our infrastructure like this ice storm had."

Thursday's ice storm is historic in both the scope of its impact on the power grid and the amount of ice, Lauer said.

"Three quarters of an inch of ice is a very heavy amount of ice, and that's where you really start to see the damaging effects on infrastructure," he said.

Warmer temperatures throughout Thursday afternoon have melted a lot of the ice on power infrastructure and trees and there is minimal risk for more outages, Lauer said. As the ice continues to melt, the outages should stop growing, he said.

"Right now we're focused on securing down wires to keep the public safe," Lauer said. "And then we're going to move very quickly into the restoration phase of getting everybody's power back."

With wind gusts of up to 40 mph expected on Thursday afternoon, DTE officials warned that there could still be significant icing in Livingston and Washtenaw counties. The Jackson, Livingston and Washtenaw counties received the heaviest icing and will see "hundreds of snapped utility poles, lots of wires down," Lauer said.

An ice-coated branch snapped off a tree in Trenton following Wednesday's storm.

The storm resulted in at least one death Wednesday in west Michigan.

Ice forms on a string of light at a home on Grosse Ile, Wednesday, February 22, 2023.

A Paw Paw firefighter was killed after coming in contact with a downed power line, the Van Buren County Sheriff's Office said. Deputies were called at about 5:45 p.m. to a location in the 42000 block of 30th Street in Almena Township to respond to his death.

Officials said in a statement it was "a tragic incident, no fault of the firefighter."

They also said the fire department is asking for privacy at this time and will release more information at a later date: "Please keep all of them in your thoughts and prayers at this time. Thank you for respecting their wishes."

Treatment plant outage and warming centers

Elsewhere, the storm knocked out power to the South Huron Valley Waste Water Treatment Plant in Brownstown Township, officials said. The facility serves the communities of Brownstown Township, Flat Rock, Gibraltar, Huron Township, South Rockwood, Van Buren Township, and Woodhaven in southern Wayne County.

Mark Houle, project manager of the facility, said a backup generator has allowed it to operate, but it had to discharge treated sewage into the Detroit River as a result. He said it will keep discharging the treated sewage until DTE Electric can restore power.

Two warming centers, meanwhile, have been opened in Dearborn Heights, according to the city's police department, and are open to any resident having difficulty with cold weather or the lack of electricity. The Canfield Center, located on Beech Daly south of Ford Road, is open until 5 p.m. Thursday. The Richard A. Young Center on McKinley and Powers will be open until 9 p.m. Thursday.

In Detroit, warming centers include Cass Community Social Services and Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries, though the year-round shelters may be at capacity.

Ice storms in southern Michigan aren’t uncommon and can happen two to three times in a decade, but the ongoing storm Wednesday night was impactful, the weather service's Considine said.

The outage numbers showed how: the outages rose slowly at first, then exploded to nearly a half-million by 11:30 p.m. The number rivaled another storm, this one led by winds in August, when gusts topping 70 mph knocked out power to nearly a half-million people.

Consumers, which has more than 300 crews mobilized for an all-hands-on-deck restoration process, urged customers to be cautious of downed wires, keep children and pets at least 25 feet away from power lines and be patient while restoration takes place. Officials also asked the public to be alert to crews working along roads and keep a safe distance.

“Our top priority is the safety of our customers and crews, and that is why we’re continuing to closely track this storm as it moves through the state, said Norm Kapala, one of Consumers Energy’s officers in charge for the storm. “We were prepared for this storm and will restore power as quickly and as safely as possible. As the weather worsens and temperatures drop overnight, we’re grateful for the patience and understanding of our customers.”

Crashes and building closures

Outages are spread throughout Metro Detroit, though concentrated in Wayne and Washtenaw counties. Outages were in Westland, where more than 11,000 are without service; Livonia, where more than 17,000 customers are without service; and the Ypsilanti area, which has more than 10,000 customers in the dark.

The University of Michigan health system in Ann Arbor reported that all of its inpatient and major outpatient clinics are operating normally, spokeswoman Mary Masson said Thursday. "We only have five facilities without power with limited impact to operations," she said, adding that they are non-clinical buildings. "None of them are locations of direct patient care."

Michigan State Police and the Michigan Department of Transportation, meanwhile, reported dozens of crashes on area roads. There were 55 crashes across MSP's second district as of Thursday morning, which includes Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties, public information officer Lt. Michael Shaw.

"None were serious and all of them were caused by bad driving behaviors," Shaw said. "For today it (the danger) is going to be down power lines and the wind. Tonight will be bad driving behaviors along with the refreeze."

Ice totals included 0.1 inche in White Lake Township, 0.19 inch in Garden City and Pontiac, 0.2 inch in Howell, 0.3 inch in St. Clair Shores and 0.31 inch in Saline, the weather service said.

Areas north of Metro Detroit got more snow than ice. As of Thursday morning, snowfall totals included 6.6 inches in Midland and 4.5 inches in Bay City, according to the weather service.

The storm prompted dozens of school districts, government offices and university campuses across southeast Michigan to cancel classes or shut down early. The Secretary of State also closed several branch offices, including in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties. Pontiac City Hall closed early Wednesday.

Many districts that canceled classes Wednesday before the storm even really hit southeast Michigan, closed again Thursday. They include Anchor Bar, Armada Area, Avondale, Berkley, Center Line, Clarkston, Eastpointe, Fraser, Howell, Huron Valley, Lake Orion, Lake Shore, Lapeer, Oxford, Richmond, Roseville, Royal Oak, Troy and Waterford Township.

A pedestrian tries to avoid the rain as he runs across the street at the intersection of Congress and Griswold in downtown Detroit, February 22, 2023. Freezing rain is expected to make travel slippery as the day progresses into evening.

The Michigan State Capitol is closed Thursday due to hazardous conditions. Oakland County said its offices would be open after shutting down early Wednesday.

At Detroit Metro Airport, there were 15 delays and 56 canceled flights as of Thursday morning, according to FlightAware.com. Detroit Metro Airport reported 0.36 inches of rain through the afternoon, according to the National Weather Service.

"As always, we encourage travelers to check their flight status by contacting their airline — online or by app — before heading to the airport," Wayne County Airport spokeswoman Erica Donerson said.

Extended temperatures

State officials also warned residents to brace for dangerous driving conditions and outages.

“We have enjoyed an unusually sunny February, but we are now reminded that it is still winter here in Michigan,” said Col. Joe Gasper, director of the MSP. “With this potentially dangerous storm hitting across the state, we advise all Michiganders to take precautions and avoid non-essential travel when possible.”

Craig Bryson, spokesman for the Road Commission for Oakland County, said its crews are doing well considering the ice left by Wednesday's storm.

He said the biggest issue for the commission is downed or low-hanging trees and branches. "We have crews out all over the county clearing these, and this process will probably take days to complete."

Oakland County roads that were closed Thursday will be reopened, but workers may have to return to those locations to pick up fallen trees or branches moved out of the roadway, he said. 

Bryson also said the forecasted warmup Thursday will help with the ice, but the increased winds and expected drop in temperature to below-freezing Thursday night could be a problem, especially with the re-freezing of roads. He said crews will likely stay out Thursday and Friday to continue salting as needed.

Temperatures in Metro Detroit, meanwhile, could climb to 40 on Thursday, plummet to 26 on Friday and jump to 36 on Saturday, the weather service said. The warmup will continue Sunday and Monday when the mercury is expected to reach 43 and 45.

"For those who are without power, it’s going to be pretty uncomfortable because it is going to be cold after this brief warm-up tomorrow," Considine said.

The average temperature in Detroit for this February is about 38, according to the weather service. Detroit's average monthly high temperature in February is 32.5, records show.

So far this month, Detroit has seen about a half-inch of snow. Average monthly snowfall in February for Detroit is 12.5 inches.

Detroit forecast

Thursday: Rain; high 40, low 20.

Friday: Mostly sunny; high 26, low 21.

Saturday: Mostly cloudy; high 36, low 27.

Sunday: Mostly sunny; high 43, low 28.

Monday: Rain; high 45, low 35.

Tuesday: Mostly sunny; high 42, low 29.

Wednesday: Partly sunny, high 42.

Source: National Weather Service


Twitter: @CharlesERamirez

Staff Writer Sarah Rahal contributed

Warming Center Help

Detroit utilizes a coordinated entry process to access shelters and warming centers. Individuals, families, and youth seeking shelter or warming center placements can go to 1600 Porter St. Detroit, on Thursday and Friday from 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. for an assessment and intake procedure. Veterans seeking shelter should go to 4646 John R St. Red Tower 2nd Detroit from 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Anyone can call to talk with a CAM staff member to explore available shelter options at (313)-305-0311.