For the second time in as many days, Public Service Company of Oklahoma, Cotton Electric Cooperative and other area utilities announced they would be enacting rolling blackouts early Tuesday morning under the direction of its governing body, the Southwest Power Pool.
Severe winter weather, coupled with increased strain on the grid, had caused the Pool to raise its emergency alert level to 3, which meant all of the utilities that fell under its governance could be asked to institute rolling blackouts in their service areas.
The blackouts, which lasted anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours in some cases, were executed in an attempt to lighten the load on the grid, which typically sees peak activity in the summer.
The Pool issued the first unprecedented Level 3 alert to its member companies on Monday afternoon, indicating power reserves had fallen below the minimum required level. That alert was later rolled back down to level 2. Tuesday morning, it returned to level 3, where it stayed for several hours before the Pool returned it first to level 2 around 10 a.m. and then level 1 around noon.
For Johnny Jernigan, of Lawton, the rolling blackout on Monday evening couldn’t have come at a worse time.
Jernigan’s daughter began coughing uncontrollably and had to be rushed to the emergency room. After returning home around 6:45 p.m, he said she was medicated and readying to go to sleep when, with no warning, a rolling blackout struck. He was grateful they had a safety-valve.
“Thank God for natural gas because my in-laws have a natural gas-powered generator,” he said.
After Monday’s rolling blackouts, some residents were expecting them to return on Tuesday.
“I had seen where they were talking about it yesterday, so I jumped on Facebook on my cellphone to check. It didn’t take long to find out they were scheduled,” Lori Garnett, of Duncan, said.
Her morning coffee was nearly finished making when the power went out at her home on Duncan’s central west side.
“It was really very boring. It looked like it lasted about an hour and twenty minutes. It wasn’t during a meal, we didn’t have food in the oven or anything like that, we just snuggled up on the couch with our dogs,” Garnett said. “I was fine. I figured as long as they did it during the daylight hours and it was for a short period it didn’t bother me.”
About an hour southeast of Duncan, Lacy Shepard lost power during a rolling blackout in Ardmore. The temperature outside her home when the power went off was -6 degrees according to Shepard.
“The temp inside dropped fast, thankfully it was only out for a little over an hour. But the thing is, we got an email giving us notice of the power being shut off well after it’d already been off and come back on. That situation could be so dangerous for elderly, and people on oxygen with medical problems that depend on electricity or with newborns,” Shepard said.
Shepard believes the situation should have been handled differently and that the power companies could have been more prepared for a situation such as this one.
“This really seems counterproductive and to do more harm than good because it causes the heaters to run longer and work extra hard once the power is back on to try to catch up, so is it really doing any good,” Shepard said. “This just puts more people in danger of pipes freezing as well. Also, people are talking about why don’t they shut down the casinos and big businesses that are open that shouldn’t have made their employees be out in this in the first place. That would save tons of electricity.”
Bridget Terry said the thermostat in her house showed bone-chilling temperatures before she and her husband regained power in their northwest Lawton home on Tuesday after about three hours without.
Terry said the outage happened without warning, as she was preparing breakfast around 8 a.m.
“The butter was in the pan. Then, nothing. No breakfast for us this morning,” she said.
Terry said the temperature dramatically dropped in her house immediately without heat.
“Bundled up; that’s all you could do,” she said, explaining her husband just huddled under a blanket, playing on his cell phone as the couple and their dogs waited it out.
She said the biggest concern was getting too cold, adding the couple was worried about elderly people who lived in their neighborhood near Northwest 57th Street and Northwest Columbia. While the heat was back on by lunch time, the heater “was still running to warm the house up.” Like many others across the area, Terry and her husband already had a problem with a frozen cold-water pipe before Tuesday’s power outage. But, it wasn’t as bad as their neighbors, who already were without water when they lost power.
“So, they’re going to have to go to a hotel,” she said.
Steve Sinderson, who lives with his wife in the Wildflower Estates Addition east of Cache, said his house lost power without warning about 7 a.m. Tuesday and it didn’t come back until almost noon.
The experience wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t one Sinderson isn’t ready to repeat.
“I’m an old man,” he said, with a laugh. “I don’t like cold weather. I like warm weather.”
Once the power went off, the Sindersons waited to hear about the length of the outage. The initial text said 10 a.m.; the last predicted it would be 1:30 p.m. before power was restored (it came back about 11:45 a.m.). It didn’t take long for the house to begin cooling, ultimately bottoming out at 56 degrees. Sinderson was practical in his response.
“I got underneath the covers in bed with Hank, my dog,” he said, explaining his wife laid two or three quilts over the pair before she left for work. “We stayed underneath the covers until it came back on. It wasn’t too bad. It was common sense.”
Sinderson said there weren’t any lingering effects inside the house from the cold — no frozen waterlines, for example. And if things had gotten bad, he would have started a fire in the fireplace.
Sinderson said the bout of winter weather has been an experience for his pitbull Hank, his Tuesday morning cuddle buddy.
“This is his first snow,” he said. “He likes it.”
Takeez Meals works at Red River Credit Union in Lawton. He said the office was still open Tuesday, but he’s bracing for the worst today. He said power outages have been avoided so far at both home and at work.
“Fortunately,” he said. “But we’re stocking up on necessities and candles just in case.”
Lee Grigsby LaRoche, of Lawton, kept her thoughts succinct about losing power during the middle of this severe winter weather.
“It sucks,” she said. “The end.”
According to the Southwest Power Pool, the alert level will likely fluctuate over the next 24-48 hours. If the alert is raised back to level 3, utility companies could once more be asked to institute rolling blackouts.