They knew it was coming. What they didn’t know was how bad it would be.
The February 13th ice storm that paralyzed Southside Virginia deposited up to three-quarters-of-an-inch of frozen precipitation on everything. Nothing was spared. Tree limbs eventually snapped, taking miles of power line down with them. The same scene played out over and over again throughout the utility’s largely rural service area. The results were catastrophic.
An estimated 48-thousand Southside Electric Cooperative (SEC) customers, more than 80-percent of SEC’s membership, were suddenly without power.
Keith Harkins, vice president of Academic and Workforce Programs at Southside Virginia Community College (SVCC), says they got clobbered by what could best be described as a once-in-a-lifetime event.
“The level of damage was unparalleled. It was something that would’ve brought just about any utility to its knees.”
Scott Geovannello, a graduate of the Power Line Worker training program at SVCC (pictured above left and atop a pole below), was one of hundreds of linemen who were “boots-on-the-ground,” clearing debris and splicing power lines almost around the clock.
The damage, he says, was comparable to what he saw as a young apprentice just out of high school — damage caused by Hurricane Michael in 2018.
“You look down the next right-of-way and you couldn’t even see the next pole because there were so many trees down.”
The restoration effort was a logistical battle on numerous fronts. Crews had to frequently take different routes to reach their targets because of downed trees, overgrowth and muddy terrain.
“Just getting to the problem sometimes required five or six hours of cutting your way to the pole. On top of that, with the ice and the snow that had melted, it really made it difficult to get bucket and digger trucks to where they were needed. So, we’d have to get tracked machines. When they didn’t work, we climbed.”
The linemen went to work when it was dark and returned each day well after sundown. The long, demanding days in the field gave way to nights that typically consisted of little more than dinner and some well-deserved sleep.
“Before you knew it, you were putting up poles again.”
Geovannello recalls hearing some complaints from customers who were upset that they were still in the dark days, sometimes weeks, after the storm struck.
“If they (some of their customers) could’ve seen what I saw, that might’ve helped alleviate some of the tension.”
Looking back on the ice storm and his career thus far, Geovannello says the training he received at SVCC was top-notch and the CDL-training in particular was “irreplaceable.”
“The school was such a great experience. You build relationships that will likely last a lifetime. The folks who graduate from the program develop the skills they’ll need to climb and operate machinery safely. They’ll also develop the confidence they need to be successful.”
You can learn more about SVCC’s Power Line Worker training program here.