More than 5,000 households in Charlevoix and Emmet counties woke up to no power in their homes Friday morning after a severe winter storm brought a foot of snow and heavy winds to the area.
Additionally, as of Friday morning, power had already been restored to several thousand customers who lost it during the day on Thursday.
The majority of outages reported were Great Lakes Energy customers, about 4,000 in the two counties, with another 1,500 Consumers Energy customers in Emmet County and 204 in Charlevoix County.
Great Lakes Energy communications director Dave Guzinczak said the damage to its power lines and numbers of customers out of power equals the damage done this March by another major snow storm, which brought twice as much snow.
"It could be worse," he said of the damage to the utility lines.
The wet, heavy snow and wind and numerous trees on lines are the cause of the outages, he said.
Many of Great Lakes' customers will still be without power at the end of the day today, reported Guzinczak, and it's likely all customers will still not have power restored by the end of the day Saturday.
It will take "several days", he said, for all customers to have power restored.
Consumers Energy officials report they hope many of their customers will have power restored by the end of the day Friday and all power will be back on by the end of the day Saturday.
Consumers Energy reports that in all, 85,000 of its customers across the state have lost service since Thursday morning. That's less than half the number of outages reported this March when many in Northern Michigan were left without electricity for several days.
Both utility companies say they expect more outages to occur over the course of the day Friday.
But, the worst of the storm is over.
The National Weather Service in Gaylord predicts heavy winds, with gusts up to 30 miles per hour, to continue over the day on Friday, but only another inch or two of snow to accumulate. Winds are expected to calm and snow to become light over the weekend.
"The heaviest snow has come and gone," said Scott Rozanski, meteorologist for the weather service, "There is the potential for some blowing and drifting, but not a ton because the snow that fell yesterday was wet and heavy."
Road crews are working long hours to get the roads clean today.
"We had guys from the day crew who worked most of the night, got three hours of sleep and they're back," said Pat Harmon, manager of the Charlevoix County Road Commission. Harmon said he expects the main roads and highways to be clear by mid-morning Friday and most side roads by late afternoon.
"We'll get everything cleared up today before we go home," he said.
One major issue for road crews in Emmet County has been the number of fallen trees knocked down by heavy winds that are blocking roads and road crew vehicles.
"They've had to go back to grab chain saws. It's slowing things down tremendously," said Brian Gutowksi, manager of the Emmet County Road Commission.
Gutowski said it will be a slow effort today getting roads clear of snow and trees and encouraged residents to stay at home, if possible.
Despite the challenges, Gutowski anticipates the majority of roads will be clear by mid-afternoon, although heavy wind could cause blowing and drifting creating an ongoing job for road crews to keep roads clear over the course of the day.
Consumers Energy and Great Lakes Energy both issued statements cautioning residents to avoid touching any downed wires and to report them immediately by calling a local law enforcement agency.
The utilities also remind residents to be alert to utility crews working along roads and urges drivers to take extra precautions in those situations. In particular, drivers should slow down or stop and wait for oncoming traffic to clear so they safely can go past utility workers and equipment on roadsides.
The American Red Cross in Petoskey reports no warming shelters have been opened yet in the area for those without heat in their homes, but shelters will become available if requests for them are recieved.
To report an outage to Consumers Energy, call (800) 477-5050.
To report and outage to Great Lakes Energy, call (800) 678-0411.
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