By Mona Neeley
It’s winter in Colorado. That means storms with wind, snow and sometimes ice.
When high winds and ice combine, it can affect power lines in a unique way that makes them “gallop.”
Ice accumulating on a power line can, first, cause it to sag. As little as a half-inch of ice on a distribution line can make the line drop about a foot. More ice means that the line will sag further.
What happens when strong winter winds happen along with ice is that the ice builds up on only one side of a power line. When this disproportionate buildup occurs, it changes the flow of air around the line, which can then cause it to start bouncing. This bouncing or galloping can potentially damage the lines, cause power outages and even make the lines fall to the ground.
Once galloping starts, there is not much your electric cooperative can do to alleviate the situation until the winds stop. This is why many power lines have objects, such as twisted wire or round or angular pieces of metal, attached to lines. These devices are placed on power lines to help reduce the galloping of lines and prevent potential danger.
There is danger once the lines start bouncing, so stay away. In addition to the possibility of power outages, there is a danger of the lines or other electrical equipment breaking loose and falling or of ice being dislodged from the lines and falling, hitting whatever or whomever is below.
If you see galloping lines, contact your local co-op as soon as possible. The same goes for downed lines.
Storms any time of year can include damaging winds that can take down power lines. It is important to keep your distance from these downed power lines no matter the season, as it is impossible to visually assess if the line is energized. Warn others to stay away, also.
Remember, when ice and snow are making lines sag and poles and cross arms are damaged, the snow below can hide dangerous downed lines. And know that a line that is “dead” at one point during a storm could become energized during power restoration efforts or because of someone’s improper use of a generator.
So, when wind, snow and ice hit, as they will this winter, keep your eye on the power lines and be prepared.