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Normally we encourage members to prepare for storms in the June magazine, since hurricane season is beginning. This year, many of our members have had a very recent firsthand look at the damage a storm can cause.
As I write this column, we are a week past one of the worst storms I have been caught in. On the evening of April 28, many Medina County families were finishing up dinner as phones began sounding with a tornado warning for the area.
What followed can only be described as the loudest 10 minutes of hail I have ever heard—and it felt like much longer than that. I know most of my Medina County neighbors experienced the same and many worse, as a tornado is confirmed to have touched down just south of Hondo.
Our electric system sustained severe damage from the storm. It impacted members in Uvalde and Medina counties, with Medina County hit hardest. Just after the storm, 65% of the members there were without power. A tornado has not been confirmed in any other areas, but our crews responded to locations all over the county with obvious damage from severe straight-line winds and hail. The widespread nature of the damage was unlike most storms we have seen.
One hailstone gathered during the storm measured 6.4 inches across and will be inspected by a state climate extremes committee, which will determine if it’s a record size. It’s suspected that it will set a new record for Texas.
Medina Electric Cooperative had 41* distribution poles knocked over or broken and 42 transmission poles taken down in the storm. The path of the confirmed tornado went directly in line with a large span of transmission line. Crews had to splice lines in nearly 100 locations where they were broken.
As soon as the storm struck Wednesday night, our crews began reporting to locations, and contractors were called in to assist. We could not fully assess the damage that night, but it was clear even in the dark that there was significant damage, so no time was wasted in getting other crews and contractors in place to assist. Contractors were also brought in to pull our trucks into and out of locations with dozers, which proved especially important Saturday as more rain hit and flooding occurred. Helicopters were called in for aerial assessments, so our crews would have a better idea of the nature of the damage.
Our team worked tirelessly, and the last few members had power restored Sunday night, May 3. We recognize the inconvenience of the outages, especially for the length that some of them lasted, and appreciate the understanding of all the members who were impacted.
We know that so many members in the area are now fixing up property damage as roofs were completely ripped off homes and holes from hail went completely through many windows and decking on roofs. Many of our employees who were responding to the storm are dealing with this same damage.
Thursday morning, as our crews continued responding to outages from the storm, one of the first entities on the scene was the Hill County Chapter of the American Red Cross. They were helping get people immediate access to much-needed supplies. To assist in the storm relief efforts of many of our members, Medina EC made a $10,000 donation to them the week after the storm.
One thing I do know is we will get through this. These events always make us stronger.
If you are having trouble paying your electric bill because of the financial impact the storm has had on you, please call our office and talk to our service representatives and they will work with you to help. We also have many community partners that can assist members in need.
*As of 5/13, crews have located an additional 20 distribution poles that were leaning from the storm but were not causing an outage. However, for safety reasons and to prevent future outages they are all being replaced.
Hurricane season runs from June through November, and tornado season peaks in June. Be sure your family is ready for storms. The best time to prepare is before the storm is near, so make plans to review these tips quarterly.
Know your risk. Medina EC serves 17 counties over more than 10,000 square miles of Texas, so every area faces different problems from a storm that moves into the Gulf or over the mountains of Mexico. Be familiar with the common problems from storms in your area and prepare accordingly.
Listen to weather forecasts often so you’ll know when high winds, hail or heavy rain are on their way. If a storm is expected in the Gulf, pay attention to where forecasters think it’s headed and know what effects it could have where you live. When storms build over mountains in Mexico, keep an eye on how they build as the move into Texas.
For tornado warnings stay away from windows, doors and outside walls. The best place to be is an interior room on the lowest floor. Cover yourself in blankets, towels or something to protect you from debris.
Prepare an outage kit that contains a battery-powered radio, fresh batteries, a flashlight, candles, matches, a wind-up clock, and paper plates and plastic utensils.
Charge up if you’re normally plugged in and rely on your phone, laptop or mobile device for information. Be sure all devices you use are fully charged before a storm rolls through and consider investing in a back-up battery for these devices.
Fill up on gas, just in case a power outage makes fuel inaccessible, or supplies run low.
Keep a stock of canned food and a manual can opener. Consider buying a camp stove and fuel that you can use (outdoors only) if you can’t cook on your electric stove. It’s also a good idea to have some bottled or jug water on hand. The recommendation in high-risk hurricane areas is to have enough food and water on hand to last each person in your family a minimum of one week.
Cash is king during widespread disasters, and many people learn the hard way that you can’t buy much without cash when the power is out for any length of time. Be sure you have what you think is a safe, ample amount of cash so you can get necessities if there is a large, sustained outage in your area.