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Michigan Power Crews Work, California Recovers After Storms

February 27, 2023

Some Michigan residents faced a fourth straight day without power Sunday as crews continued work to restore electricity more than 165,000 homes and businesses in the greater Detroit area following last week’s ice storm.

Leah Thomas, whose home north of Detroit lost power Wednesday night, was still waiting Sunday afternoon for the power to come back.

Thomas said she feels lucky that she and their 17-year-old son have been able to stay at her parents’ nearby home, which still has power, while they are in Florida.

With her husband traveling out of town, Thomas said it was up to her to recharge the battery to their home’s backup sump pump Sunday with her car. She went to multiple stores to find a long cable for the task.

“I’m a strong woman. I figured it out,” she said. “Our basement is OK, so we’re the lucky ones.”

But with the local school district on mid-winter break, Thomas said some of their neighbors have been out of town and will be returning to find a mess from burst water pipes and flooded basements.

“They don’t know what they’re coming home to,” she said.

Powerful storms with widespread wind gusts moved into Oklahoma on Sunday evening from the Texas panhandle. The National Weather Service said that tornado watches and warnings remained in effect in parts of Oklahoma after tornados were spotted there and in Kansas.

Widespread gusts up to 90 mph (144 kilometers) were reported in southwest Oklahoma with downed trees and power lines, road closures and damage to homes around Norman and Shawnee.

The Norman Police Department said on Facebook that they were responding to storm damage on the south and eastern sides of Norman about 20 miles (32 kilometers) south of Oklahoma City. In their post, they said they are still assessing potential injuries and the extent of all the damage.

In hard-hit southeastern Michigan, still reeling from the ice storm and high winds, the state’s two main utilities — DTE Energy and Consumers Energy — reported about 168,000 homes and businesses were without power as of about 6 p.m. Sunday. About 132,000 of those were DTE customers.

Both utilities said they still hoped to have the lights back on by Sunday night for a majority of their affected customers.

DTE Energy spokeswoman Cindy Hecht said some DTE business and residential customers have been without power since late Wednesday, but she did not know how many.

She said power restoration efforts have proven time-consuming because of the large number of damaged lines, including individual lines linking single homes on the grid.

Wednesday’s ice storm coated lines and trees with a half an inch (more than 1.25 centimeters) of ice or more. The storm was followed Thursday by high winds that put about 600,000 DTE customers in the dark at the storm’s peak.

Hecht said that was the second-largest number of outages DTE has ever experienced, topped only by a March 2017 wind storm that cut power to about 800,000 of its customers.

“The icing event we had this week is equivalent to a hurricane for coastal utilities. It was the amount of ice and high winds — the winds and the amount of ice accumulation on lines and branches,” she said.

Hecht said the utility’s meteorologists have been tracking another storm system that will move into Michigan on Monday, and the utility is “prepared to respond.”

The outages prompted some Democratic state lawmakers to call for legislative hearings in Lansing to question utilities about the long restoration times and reliability issues. “There will be hearings. We will be taking over,” State Sen. Darrin Camilleri told WDIV-TV.

California, meanwhile, got a brief break from severe weather after a powerful storm a day earlier swelled Los Angeles-area rivers to dangerous levels, flooded roads and dumped snow at elevations as low as about 1,000 feet (300 meters). The sun came out briefly Sunday in greater LA, where residents emerged to marvel at mountains to the north and east blanketed in white.

Suburban Santa Clarita, in hills north of Los Angeles, received its first significant snowfall since 1989.

“We went outside and we let our sons play in the snow,” resident Cesar Torres told the Santa Clarita Signal. “We figured, while the snow’s there, might as well make a snowman out of it.”

The weather service said Mountain High, one of the closest ski resorts to Los Angeles, received an eye-popping 7.75 feet (2.3 meters) of snow during the last storm, with more possible this week.

Rain and snow were falling again Sunday in Northern California as the first of two new storms began moving in. Blizzard warnings go into effect at 4 a.m. Monday and will last until Wednesday for much of the Sierra Nevada.

“Extremely dangerous and near to impossible mountain travel is expected due to heavy snow and strong wind,” the weather service’s Sacramento office warned on Twitter.

After fierce winds toppled trees and downed wires, about 65,000 utility customers remained without electricity statewide as of Sunday afternoon, according to PowerOutage.us. The majority of the outages were in Los Angeles.

Days of downpours dumped almost 11 inches (28 cm) of rain in the Woodland Hills area of LA’s San Fernando Valley, while nearly 7 inches (18 cm) were reported in Beverly Hills.

In Valencia, north of LA, county officials said the heavy rains eroded an embankment at an RV park and swept multiple motorhomes into the Santa Clara River, with emergency video showing one of the vehicles toppled on its side. No one was reported injured.

Rare blizzard warnings for Southern California mountains and widespread flood watches ended late Saturday. But Interstate 5, the West Coast’s major north-south highway, was closed off and on due to heavy snow and ice in the Tejon Pass through the mountains north of Los Angeles. Emergency crews, meanwhile, worked to clear mountain roads east of LA of snow and ice.

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