The power of ice: How much is too much before ice shuts down a city

KCP&L explains why ice topples power lines

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- When most people think of winter weather, they often think of piles of fluffy, white snow, but that's not the only thing Old Man Winter can throw at us. 

Ice storms can bring communities to a complete standstill, causing widespread power outages and making travel incredibly dangerous, or even impossible.

So why do we sometimes see sleet or freezing rain instead of snow?

In winter time, all precipitation starts out as snow high above the ground. Sometimes the snow falls through a layer of warm air formed above the surface, which causes it to melt into rain drops. If there is a thin layer of cold air right at the surface, the rain will freeze on contact, forming a layer of ice on roads, cars and vegetation. If the layer of cold air near the ground is thicker, the rain has time to refreeze on the way down and become the little pellets of ice known as sleet.

Sleet by itself isn’t a threat to trees and power lines, but if it accumulates, it can cause for some slippery roads and walkways. 

Freezing rain is a different story. It can collect on just about anything, wreak havoc on the power grid, and make roads dangerously slick.

A ½-inch layer of ice can increase weight by as much as 25 times. For example, that would be like hanging a 25-pound lifting weight on a 1-pound tree branch, which would easily snap under such stress.

Corey Miller, emergency response manager with KCP&L, said just a half inch of ice on power lines and trees is enough to cause major power outages across Kansas City and outlying areas.

"The weight of that ice causes so much damage to the lines and poles. It really takes us a long time to get the lines back up and get the customers' lights back on," Miller said.

He also said ice is often ruthless as crews try to repair fallen lines.

"It will find any flaws or anything else there is and drop those lines to the ground," Miller said. "Sometimes it feels almost hopeless. You put something up, and as you go on to the next one, stuff is falling down behind you." 

If an ice storm occurs this winter and your home or business loses power, Miller said you should call KCP&L at 1-888-LIGHT-KC and report the power outage so they are aware of the issue. 

KCP&L also asks that you be patient, as they will likely be busy working hard to get the power back on for everybody.

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