Over the last three months, Volunteer Energy Cooperative (VEC) has seen a drastic increase in outages due to trees and tree limbs falling. From March to June 2016, there were only 211 power outages linked to trees across our 17 county service area. This year there were 935 outages during the same three months as a result of trees and/or limbs falling.
What has changed over the last 12 months?
While the area had a surplus of rain falling this year, last year East Tennessee experienced a drought of historic proportions. The natural heavy foliage of eastern Tennessee combined with an extended lack of rain, created a competition for water resources that left many large trees in a weakened stressed condition. When those weakened trees meet with a spring of unusually strong storms, they will fall. An added factor is recent storms with winds up to 90 miles per hour forcing even trees in good shape to fall.
VEC spends approximately 6 million of its overall budget just to maintain right of ways. Even with road crews working year-round to eliminate danger trees, contract crews spraying heavily wooded areas before they become hazards, and servicemen responding to calls regarding trees in the 40-foot right of way; when a drought-weakened tree becomes stressed by storm winds, it will fall and bring down power lines.
Steve Scott, VEC Right of Way Superintendent and Arborist, stated, “This year’s storms have been extremely hard on the trees in our service areas. We normally have storms that are predominantly southern-wind storms. In the spring of 2017, the majority of our storms have had winds from the north. This is not typical, and on the trees already weakened from last year’s drought it has been catastrophic.”