Big wind, big thanks: Customers, crews weather the storm

Image of BC Hydro crews working following the August 29, 2015 windstorm
BC Hydro crews tend to fallen power lines in the wake of a windstorm that hit the Lower Mainland with gusts of up to 115-kilometres per hour on August 29. The storm left more than 700,000 homes and businesses out of power at some point last weekend.

Lessons from the most damaging storm in our history

As the big windstorm hit southwest B.C. last Saturday, social media wowed us with images of huge trees across roads, the tattered remains of Canada's largest flag, and power lines on the ground. But for anyone who bore the brunt of the devastation — the hundreds of thousands left without power for hours or days — the storm was anything but fun.

We at BC Hydro send out a major "Thanks" for the patience shown by so many in the past week. And that includes our crews, many brought in from all over the province to work 16-hour shifts to restore power in the wake of the most damaging windstorm we've ever seen.

Winds were much stronger than expected

The word from meteorologists heading into the storm was that we'd see lots of rain, and perhaps some flooding. No one expected winds to gust to up to 115 kilometres an hour.

"That was rain wave #1 of 4 w/ 10-15mm," Environment Canada tweeted out last Friday night. "The next one arrives tonight w/ 30-40mm. Enjoy the break but keep those umbrellas handy!"

Umbrellas proved useless as the storm arrived Saturday. Drought-weakened trees split open, broke or were simply torn out by the roots. The City of Vancouver estimates that it lost more than 500 street trees, and hundreds of trees fell across our power lines across the region.

The extent of damage to the electrical system — more than 700,000 homes and businesses lost power in the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island — came as a shock to the likes of Wayne Martell, who has worked for BC Hydro for nearly 43 years.

"This one is just out of this world for me," said Martell, manager of the network of distribution power lines that deliver power in neighbourhoods in the Lower Mainland.

"If you look at the summer as a whole, this will go down in history as the first summer Vancouver really experienced climate change," Sadhu Johnston, Vancouver's deputy mayor, told the Vancouver Sun. "Think about air quality problems due to the extreme fires, the drought, the water shortages, extended periods of heat and then followed by extreme storm events. All we're missing here is very high water levels."

Uprooted tree blocks traffic at Nelson and Howe streets in Vancouver during August 29, 2015 windstorm.
An uprooted tree entirely blocks Nelson Street in downtown Vancouver midday last Saturday, August 29. The City of Vancouver estimates that more than 500 street trees went down in the storm.

Damage far greater than winter storm of 2006

While many saw the windstorm of December 11, 2006, as a more dramatic event — fuelled by the images of so many trees down in a devastated Stanley Park — it doesn't really compare. At its peak, the 2006 storm left 240,000 homes and businesses without power. But last weekend, there were as many as 400,000 at a time without power as the number of damaged circuits — the crippling of major power line arteries — more than doubled the number of 2006.

What we're particularly proud of this time around is that our crews restored power to 705,000 customers within 72 hours, and had all but a handful of customers back with electricity four days after the storm hit.

CEO vows to ensure website is reliable in the future

But those statistics aren't particularly comforting to those of you who suffered through days without power, and without access to the outages updates so vital to keeping you informed. Our website went down for extended periods just when you needed it most.

"I assure you we're investigating the root cause of our website's failure and we'll take steps to ensure this doesn't happen again," wrote our CEO and president, Jessica McDonald, in an email to customers in southwestern B.C. earlier this week. "I also want to reassure you that having our website down didn't in any way affect our outage response times, which is operated through a different system."

Update your emergency kit, have a solid plan

Storm season hasn't even officially begun in B.C., but it's a great time to ensure you have a well-stocked emergency kit — and a solid plan — for emergencies including power outages and earthquakes. Here are some resources that will help you prepare.