Duke Energy has started “rolling blackouts” across the Carolinas to address spiking demand for electricity due to frigid temperatures, the company announced Saturday morning.
“Due to extremely cold temperatures driving unusually high demand, we have begun short, temporary power outages across our system,” the utility said on its website. “These emergency outages, also known as rolling blackouts, are necessary to protect the energy grid against longer, more widespread outages.”
Duke said the rolling blackouts would last 15 to 30 minutes, although “in some cases, a crew will need to be dispatched, extending restoration times.”
Jeff Brooks, a company spokesperson, estimated Saturday morning that energy would return over the next several hours.
“We are in the process of restoring those temporary outages now,” he said, “which is a methodical process that will occur throughout the morning to ensure that we can bring each customer back up reliably without affecting other customers.”
The company’s power outage map estimated that power across the Triangle would be restored by midnight Saturday.
At 11:30 a.m., 19,245 Duke customers were without power in Wake County; 18,897 were without power in Durham County; 8,142 people had lost power in Orange County; 1,564 were without power in Johnston County; and 7,155 were without power in Chatham County.
Across North Carolina, more than 350,000 Duke customers were without power late Saturday morning, down from almost half a million earlier in the day.
Widespread outages and frigid temperatures taxed emergency services as residents struggled to keep warm. Calls to the Raleigh Fire Department had increased by about 50% since the rolling blackouts began, according to RFD Battalion Chief Patrick Marks.
“We’ve definitely had an uptick in calls,” Marks told The News & Observer Saturday. “Normally we average about 100 calls in the city of Raleigh but yesterday we had about 150.”
Many calls to the fire department were triggered by carbon monoxide monitors. As overtaxed heaters labored through extreme temperatures, or residents without power relied on risky alternatives to heat their homes, the chance of carbon monoxide poisoning soared.
“Really the biggest thing we’ve had is an uptick in carbon monoxide alarms,” Marks said. “We might run a CO alarm — well, I’d say we go a couple of days without seeing one. But it’s gotten to where we’re seeing a few every day.”
PSNC Energy, part of Dominion Energy and one of the state’s largest suppliers of natural gas, warned fire departments that carbon monoxide issues would likely increase as the company struggled to meet demand, Marks said.
“We don’t normally have weather quite this cold so it’s just a difficulty getting enough for all these heaters that are running constantly and not cycling,” he said.
In most cases, carbon monoxide leaks had not caused lasting issues, though some residences suffered minor structural fires, Marks said. Neither he nor the Raleigh Police Department knew of any weather-related deaths.
“We have not received any calls of fatalities related to the weather,” Lt. Jason Borneo of the RPD told The N&O.
But 911 calls were elevated.
“The Raleigh Police Department has responded to multiple calls related to power outages, mostly related (to) malfunctioning traffic lights,” Borneo said. “Officers provide traffic control assistance to major intersections to ensure the safety of the public.”
On Friday, powerful winds knocked town trees and cut power to tens of thousands. Frigid Saturday temperatures threaten to hit an all-time low for Christmas Eve.
Winds gusting up to 45 mph Friday blew hard enough to knock down full 95-gallon trash cans in downtown Raleigh, taking down everything from inflatable yard decorations to tall hardwoods.
By late afternoon, Duke Energy reported 66,000 outages in and around Raleigh and a total topping 135,000 statewide as crews scrambled to return holiday power.
Last-minute shoppers contended with darkened traffic signals as they navigated boxes blowing across streets and parking lots, including Joe Fleming, who pulled a hood over his stocking cap as he made his way into Southgate Plaza in Southeast Raleigh.
“Unless the wind knocks me over,” he joked.
While the National Weather Service reported the strongest wind gusts dying down Friday afternoon, it also forecast a sharp temperature drop-off with Saturday temperatures clinging to double digits at 11 degrees around dawn and staying below freezing all day.
“That is way below normal, like more than 20 degrees below normal” and could set a record for the lowest maximum temperature on that date, said James Danco of the NWS.
Gov. Roy Cooper on Tuesday signed a State of Emergency order to activate the state’s emergency operations plan, waive transportation regulations to help the transport of fuel and critical supplies and protect consumers from price gouging.
“We know that with the extremely low temperatures North Carolinians will need propane and other heating fuel to keep their families warm,” Cooper said in a news release announcing the order. “While propane supplies are strong in the state, there is a limited supply of licensed commercial truck drivers, which is being further exacerbated by COVID and flu outbreaks.”
Christmas Day temperatures will poke slightly higher, to 38 degrees, but warmer weather is expected to steer clear of the Triangle until Thursday, when temperatures hit the 50s again.
But in this yuletide onslaught, affecting much of the country, the elements are bringing a mixed and very full bag: rain, wind, hail — even a rainbow.
This story was originally published December 24, 2022 7:00 AM.