By Heather Mullinix
Bitter cold temperatures across the Volunteer Energy Cooperative's 17-county service area have led to record demands for for energy.
That high demand has also caused "blink" and scattered outages across the region. "Blink" outages have been caused by equipment overheating due to the extremely high demand for electricity. More serious outages have occurred when overheated power lines sag into neutral or ground lines.
Robert McCarty, communications coordinator for VEC, said, "Crews have been working throughout the night to keep the power flowing."
Tuesday morning, there were eight outages reported in Cumberland County, with outages also reported in Fentress, Hamilton, Bradley, Meigs and Polk counties.
McCarty said VEC apologizes for any inconvenience and added, "Crews will remain on the job as long as necessary to restore power to every VEC customer."
The record cold, dipping below the 3 degrees recorded in 1954 to a frigid -2 Monday according to the National Climatic Data Center, comes from a polar vortex.
"The polar vortex is a high pressure system that normally sits near the North Pole," explained Crossville Meteorologist Steve Norris. "It's an unusual situation, but it has been displaced and pushed down, all the way to the U.S.-Canadian border. When that happens, we get extreme bitter cold."
It's the coldest temperatures in almost 20 years, Norris said, and in fact, a new record was set Tuesday, with people around the county reporting temperatures from -8 to -10, shattering a 1970 record low for Jan. 6 of -4.
"No one knows why these shifts happen," Norris said, adding that it was impossible to forecast if the polar vortex would return this winter, but it was already moving out of the area Tuesday afternoon.
"The winds have become more southerly today, warming things up," Norris said Tuesday.
The warmer weather will bring some above normal highs in coming days, with a high near 60 expected this weekend.
"A pressure system strong enough to bring those record lows is also strong enough to bring in much warmer temperatures, as well," he explained.
But the record lows, with a windchill at times as low as 20-below zero and arctic air becoming snow, has been amazing to watch, Norris said. Those record lows have, however, increased the demand for power. TVA had a preliminary peak power demand of 32,460 megawatts at 9 a.m. EST Tuesday, with average temperatures of 4 degrees. The record winter power demand is 32,572 megawatts set Jan. 16, 2009, when temperatures averaged 9 degrees. The all-time record is 33,482 megawatts set Aug. 16, 2007, when temperatures averaged 102 degrees.
TVA has been preparing for increased demands for power, asking commercial and industrial customers to reduce demand to ensure a stable supply of power to its customers. People are asked to turn off lights and electrical devices in unoccupied rooms and to postpone or limit hot water use until weather begins to warm. At 10 a.m. on Tuesday, TVA reported it passed its expected power peak for the day.
Sunday, TVA, which is the electricity supplier for 155 power companies in the region, issued a "Power Supply Alert," a precaution that an unexpected shutdown of a large generating unit or transmission system interchange could reduce power supply reserves. However, the utility supplier was not expecting a record demand and anticipated being able to meet the increased power needs of customers.
The arctic air is very dangerous, with warnings issued about the dangers of frostbite and hypothermia. With the mercury hovering close to zero, shelters were offered to those needing a place to warm up. At Homestead Methodist Church, the church invited everyone to "Come Inn From the Cold" with hot food and activities on Monday and Tuesday.
Of course, winter weather also brings with it a danger of falls on slippery surfaces and wrecks. Cumberland Medical Center reported there had been three patients treated for injuries in traffic accidents and one treated for injuries in a fall on ice.