UNION COUNTY — Even though its eye was still over central Georgia and it was by then a tropical storm, Hurricane Irma still managed to cause a number of power outages in Union County Monday night.
At the peak of its power when it was over the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean, Hurricane Irma was a Category 5 hurricane, meaning it generated winds in excess of 156 miles per hour. The storm retained its power for much of its existence, devastating the Caribbean islands in its path including St. Maartens and Cuba.
When hurricanes come on land, however, they leave the source of their power and begin to weaken, and that’s what happened to Irma when it struck Cuba. When it turned north toward Florida, however, the storm had to cross the Florida Straits and it regained it strength and was a Category 4 hurricane with 130 miles per hour winds when it made landfall.
Irma’s march up the Florida peninsula was devastating, but finally leaving the waters from which it was spawned, the hurricane began to weaken, soon becoming a tropical storm, meaning it was generating winds of less that 74 miles per hour. While not as powerful as when it was a hurricane, Irma was still powerful enough to drench Union County and the rest of the Upstate with heavy rains and batter the area with high winds.
Meteorologist Scott Krenz of the National Weather Service in Greer, said Tuesday that the eye of Irma was over central Georgia when it brought the heavy rains and high winds to the Upstate. Krenz said that Irma dropped an average of 2 1/2-3 inches of rain on the Upstate including Union County. He said the storm generated high winds in the area ranging from 44 miles per hour to as much as 58 miles per hour.
Those high winds were the main cause of the power outages that occurred in Union County beginning Monday afternoon and continuing throughout the night and into the early morning hours of Tuesday.
At 3:45 p.m., Broad River Electric Cooperative announced that at that point there had only been a few outages due to increasing wind speeds, with most of those being in the Pauline and Glenn Springs areas of Spartanburg County. Crews were working in those communities to restore power. At the time of the announcement, BREC crews had restored power to customers in the Blacksburg area. The announcement stated that most of the outages were due to fallen limbs/trees.
At 6:45 p.m., the company 700 BREC customers had lost power, more than 500 in the Corinth Community of Cherokee County and the rest in the southern part of Union County.
At 8:30 p.m., BREC reported that there had been another power outage in Glenn Springs. The announcement stated that a total of 250 customers were without power at the time, 140 in Glenn Springs and the rest in Union County.
On Tuesday morning, BREC Spokesman Josh Crotzer said that there had been outages in the Tuckertown, Jonesville, and Sardis areas of Union County. Crotzer said that BREC crews restored power first in Tuckertown and then in the Jonesville and Saris areas. He said that BREC crews completed repairs and had power restored to all Union County customers affected by the storm by 2:30 a.m. Tuesday.
City of Union Utility Director Joe Nichols said Tuesday that “we had quite a few” outages Monday afternoon and Monday night and that crews were out until 2 a.m. restoring power. Nichols described the outages on the city system as “scattered and widespread” due to downed trees and tree limbs on power lines. He said the largest outage experienced in the Union area had been due to issues affecting Lockhart Power’s system which supplies power to the city. Nichols said there were problems with Lockhart Power’s substation behind Bantam Chef which went down late Monday afternoon causing some 2,000 people to be without power for a couple of hours.
As of Tuesday morning, however, Nichols said power had been restored on the city system. He attributed this to the hard work and efficiency of city utility personnel who got power restored as quickly as possible.
“They did a great job,” Nichols said. “They worked really hard to restore the power for all our customers.”
Lockhart Power Chief Operating Officer Bryan Stone said that as of Tuesday morning there were still a handful of individual outages remaining but that company personnel were working to restore power pretty quickly. Stone said there were two major outages on the Lockhart system at different times affecting the Cross Anchor and West Springs communities and leaving an estimated 750 customers without power. He said the first occurred around dinner time and in that instance power was restored pretty quickly. The next outage occurred around midnight and restoring power took three-four hours because the darkness made it harder for repair crews to find the damage.
Stone said the outages were due to tree limbs and trees falling across power lines.
The high winds and heavy rains caused branches and limbs to break off trees and even toppled some trees including an oak that fell across Robin Hood Circle in Union. The tree blocked the road for several hours until it was cleared away by personnel and equipment from the South Carolina Department of Transportation.
Krenz said that Irma was now a tropical depression generating winds of less than 35 miles per hour. He said it was located over northern Alabama moving westward into western Tennessee and continuing to weaken.
As for the remainder of the week, Krenz said there will be a slight chance of light showers Wednesday (today) and Thursday afternoon. Krenz said there would be more sunshine and the temperatures would rebound from their Irma induced low in the mid- to upper-60s to the more normal low- to mid-80s.
Charles Warner can be reached at 864-762-4090.