High winds with gusts exceeding 60 miles per hour blew through southeast Michigan March 8 causing approximately 800,000 DTE Energy customers, including many in Oxford and Addison townships, to lose power for the next few days.
On social media, DTE called the damaging winds “the most significant weather event” the company had “experienced in its more than 100-year history.” According to the company, the “typical catastrophic storm” results in about 115,000 power outages.
Peak wind gusts of 68 miles per hour – the highest reported – were measured in Saginaw and at Detroit Metro Airport, according to the National Weather Service. Peak gusts of 61 mph were reported in Pontiac and Flint. Sustained wind gusts ranged from 30 to 40 mph.
To put all that in perspective, those are the type of wind speeds experienced in tropical storms (sustained winds of 39 to 73 miles per hour). A Category 1 hurricane has sustained wind speeds of 74 to 95 miles per hour.
Despite the high winds, Greg Clay, owner of Curtis Insurance Agency in downtown Oxford, hasn’t been as busy as he thought he’d be with property damage claims.
“We’ve had about 15 (claims), which is not as many as I expected,” he said on Monday. “When you think about it, we had tropical storm force winds for 12 hours. We don’t normally get that kind of thing, so I expected to see some more damage.”
Most claims involved shingles, siding and trim that blew off houses, according to Clay. “There’s still probably more (claims) to come with losses from people whose power has been out for multiple days,” he added. “When that comes back on, we may see some damage to appliances and of course, losses from spoilage.”
DTE reported via social media it had a total of 11,000 power lines down in southeast Michigan, which is far more than the 600 in a typical catastrophic storm.
Many were brought down by trees that had uprooted thanks to a combination of high winds and ground that had become “very soft and saturated” due to the “unusually warm weather” and “significant rainfall,” the company reported.
DTE replaced 850 utility poles and 300,000 feet of power lines. Restoration efforts involved 5,350 workers including 1,700 linemen and 1,000 tree trimmers, the company reported via social media.
In the days following the windstorm, more and more people had their power restored as DTE worked around the clock. By 10 a.m. Friday, 400,000 customers had their power back. As of 5:30 a.m. Monday, electricity had been restored to 755,000 customers. As of 8 p.m. Monday, DTE reported power had been restored to 785,000 customers.
The power outages and downed trees resulted in some extra business for Burdick Street Landscape Supply and Equipment in Oxford Village. Between March 8-9, the store sold 19 generators, at least 30 chainsaws and performed maintenance work on about 30 generators brought in by customers, according to co-owner Koula Stoll.
“It was pretty busy,” she said. “Not as busy as right before a big snowstorm or (the start of) spring, but we were busy.”
County-wide, more than 600 trees, either fallen or limbs, were reported in roadways and 150 traffic signals were either without power, in flash mode or experienced other problems, according to the Road Commission for Oakland County.
The Oxford Fire Department received 31 windstorm-related calls (four of which were for the same incident), while the Addison Fire Department responded to 16 calls.
Most of the calls were related to downed wires, fallen trees/limbs and trees laying on or leaning against wires.
Oxford Fire Chief Pete Scholz said one of his department’s March 8 calls involved a tree making contact with power lines just east of Dunlap Rd. and just north of the township hall. Both the tree and a power pole caught fire. Embers from the burning tree blew to the ground and caused a grass fire that was about 1.5 acres in size, according to Scholz. DTE workers replaced the burned power pole late Friday afternoon.
Oxford firefighters were called to the Meijer store March 8 after high winds peeled back the rubber membrane on the roof and ripped off a small vent, causing some rainwater to pour into the building, Scholz reported.
Addison Fire Chief Jerry Morawski believes his township experienced far fewer outages than it would have normally had thanks to all the tree trimming DTE Energy did around electrical lines over the last few years.
“That helped our township keep most of its power on,” he said. “The fire department had an easier day because of it.”