Cuomo vows crackdown on truckers who violate Thruway ban
By The Associated Press
Thursday, January 31
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Gov. Andrew Cuomo says state police will be cracking down on truckers who violate a travel ban on the western section of the Thruway after a tractor-trailer crash was blamed for causing a major pile-up during severe weather.
Speaking Thursday morning near Buffalo, Cuomo said truckers who violate the ban and cause a crash could be charged with reckless endangerment and assault as well as be ticketed.
A ban prohibiting tractor-trailers and buses from traveling Interstate 90 between Rochester and the Pennsylvania border remains in effect Thursday.
Cuomo says a tractor-trailer whose driver ignored the ban jackknifed west of Rochester Wednesday afternoon, causing a 21-vehicle pileup that injured several people, including a state trooper.
Officials say local driving bans remain in effect in parts of the Buffalo area.
Deep freeze expected to ease, but disruptions persist
By MICHAEL TARM and COREY WILLIAMS
Thursday, January 31
CHICAGO (AP) — The painfully cold weather system that put much of the Midwest into a historic deep freeze was expected to ease Thursday, though temperatures still tumbled to record lows in some places.
Disruptions caused by the cold will persist, too, including power outages and canceled flights and trains. Crews in Detroit will need days to repair water mains that burst Wednesday, and other pipes can still burst in persistent subzero temperatures.
Before the worst of the cold begins to lift, more frigid weather is expected. Record-breaking cold hit northern Illinois early Thursday, when the temperature in Rockford dropped to negative 30 degrees (negative 34 Celsius). The previous record in the city, northwest of Chicago, was negative 27 degrees (negative 33 Celsius) on Jan. 10, 1982.
Schools in parts of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois and Iowa remained closed. But students headed back to school Thursday in eastern North Dakota, where the weather was forecast to crawl out of double-digit sub-zero temperatures.
As temperatures bounce back into the single digits Thursday and into the comparative balmy 20s by Friday, more people were expected to return to work in the nation’s third-largest city, which resembled a ghost town after most offices told employees to stay home.
The blast of polar air that enveloped much of the Midwest on Wednesday closed schools and businesses and strained infrastructure with some of the lowest temperatures in a generation. The deep freeze snapped rail lines, canceled hundreds of flights and strained utilities.
Chicago dropped to a low of around minus 23 (minus 30 Celsius), slightly above the city’s lowest-ever reading of minus 27 (minus 32 Celsius) from January 1985. Milwaukee had similar conditions. Minneapolis recorded minus 27 (minus 32 Celsius). Sioux Falls, South Dakota, saw minus 25 (minus 31 Celsius).
Wind chills reportedly made it feel like minus 50 (minus 45 Celsius) or worse. Trains and buses in Chicago operated with few passengers. The hardiest commuters ventured out only after covering nearly every square inch of flesh against the extreme chill, which froze ice crystals on eyelashes and eyebrows in minutes.
The Postal Service took the rare step of suspending mail delivery in many places, and in southeastern Minnesota, even the snowplows were idled by the weather.
The bitter cold was the result of a split in the polar vortex, a mass of cold air that normally stays bottled up in the Arctic. The split allowed the air to spill much farther south than usual. In fact, Chicago was colder than the Canadian village of Alert, one of the world’s most northerly inhabited places. Alert, which is 500 miles (804 kilometers) from the North Pole, reported a temperature that was a couple of degrees higher.
Officials in dozens of cities focused on protecting vulnerable people from the cold, including the homeless, seniors and those living in substandard housing.
At least eight deaths were linked to the system, including an elderly Illinois man who was found several hours after he fell trying to get into his home and a University of Iowa student found behind an academic hall several hours before dawn. Elsewhere, a man was struck by a snowplow in the Chicago area, a young couple’s SUV struck another on a snowy road in northern Indiana and a Milwaukee man froze to death in a garage, authorities said.
In Michigan, state and utility officials warned residents that they risked brief interruptions of natural gas service if they didn’t help reduce energy. The warning followed a fire at a utility’s suburban Detroit facility that affected natural gas supplies.
An emergency alert was sent late Wednesday to cellphones asking people to lower thermostats to 65 degrees (18 Celsius) or below through Friday. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer asked everyone to “to do your part.”
Aside from the safety risks and the physical discomfort, the system’s icy grip also took a heavy toll on infrastructure, halting transportation, knocking out electricity and interrupting water service.
Amtrak canceled scores of trains to and from Chicago, one of the nation’s busiest rail hubs. Several families who intended to leave for Pennsylvania stood in ticket lines at Chicago’s Union Station only to be told all trains were canceled until Friday.
“Had I known we’d be stranded here, we would have stayed in Mexico longer — where it was warmer,” said Anna Ebersol, who was traveling with her two sons.
Ten diesel-train lines in the Metra commuter network kept running, unlike the electric lines, but crews had to heat vital switches with gas flames and watched for rails that were cracked or broken. When steel rails break or even crack, trains are automatically halted until they are diverted or the section of rail is repaired, Metra spokesman Michael Gillis explained.
A track in the Minneapolis light-rail system also cracked, forcing trains to share the remaining track for a few hours.
In Detroit, more than two dozen water mains froze. Customers were connected to other mains to keep water service from being interrupted, Detroit Water and Sewerage spokesman Bryan Peckinpaugh said.
Most mains were installed from the early 1900s to the 1950s. They are 5 to 6 feet (1.5 to 1.8 meters) underground and beneath the frost line, but that matters little when temperatures drop so dramatically, Peckinpaugh said.
On a typical winter day, the city has five to nine breaks, with each taking about three days to fix. But those repairs will take longer now with the large number of failures to fix, he added.
Detroit is in the second year of a $500 million program to rehab its water and sewer system. Last year, 25 miles (40 kilometers) of water mains were replaced.
“Water pipes are brittle. The more years they’ve gone through the freeze-thaw cycle,” the greater the stress and strain, said Greg DiLoreto, a volunteer with the American Society of Civil Engineers and chair of its committee on American infrastructure.
Pipes laid a century ago have far exceeded the life span for which they were designed, said DiLoreto, who described the aging process as “living on borrowed time.”
“When we put them in — back in the beginning — we never thought they would last this long,” he said.
The same freeze-thaw cycle beats up concrete and asphalt roads and bridges, resulting in teeth-jarring potholes.
“You won’t see them until it starts warming up and the trucks start rolling over the pavement again,” said DiLoreto who is based in Portland, Oregon.
For the latest on the weather: https://apnews.com/b805fb74a7db4894834ccbafd6ae0703
Williams reported from Detroit. Associated Press writers Caryn Rousseau in Chicago, Rick Callahan in Indianapolis, Mike Householder in Detroit, David Koenig in Dallas, Gretchen Ehlke in Milwaukee and Blake Nicholson in Bismarck, North Dakota, contributed to this story.
Keeping the lights on during extreme cold snaps takes investments and upgrades
January 31, 2019
Author: Zhaoyu Wang, Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering, Iowa State University
Disclosure statement: Zhaoyu Wang receives funding from the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Electricity Advanced Grid Modeling Program, the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office, and the U.S. National Science Foundation.
Partners: Iowa State University provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
Polar vortexes. Hurricanes. Wildfires.
With climate change making extreme weather events more frequent and intense, it is getting harder to keep the lights on and HVAC systems running.
As a power system researcher, I believe utilities need to get better at withstanding disasters and the disruption they cause. Investing more heavily is key, especially in infrastructure upgrades, renewable energy and microgrids – small and self-sufficient sources of power that help consumers either stay off the grid by choice or simply stay connected during outages.
Microgrids, explained by ABB, a Swiss-Swedish technology and electrical equipment corporation.
Many kinds of damage
Different kinds of weather can obstruct access to electricity.
In extreme cold snaps, like the one that froze a large swathe of the U.S. in early 2019, crucial equipment like circuit breakers, switches, grid sensors and other electromechanical support equipment can operate slower or faster than normal, sometimes leading to plants shutting themselves down – potentially causing power outages.
Around 300,000 customers lost power in Michigan and New Jersey due to winter storms in 2018.
In 2019, 1,500 customers temporarily lost power when power lines snapped in Kenosha County, Wisconsin, and thousands more had to shiver through the coldest night in decades in Minnesota’s Twin Cities region and parts of Illinois.
During hurricanes, high-speed winds can knock down transmission and overhead distribution power lines, as happened in 2018 with Hurricane Michael in Florida and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico in 2017.
Unfortunately, there are no easy fixes.
While burying power lines underground protects them from gusts, it then makes them vulnerable to floods and earthquakes. In areas that regularly experience high temperatures, electricity use can spike due to heavy demand for air conditioning during heat waves. And when demand exceeds supply, it can cause outages.
Within the first nine months of 2018, 11 disastrous weather events hit the U.S. caused more than US$1 billion in damages. The overall cost from a total of 238 U.S. weather and climate disasters since 1980 that exceeded $1 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars amounts to $1.5 trillion.
For power companies, reliability is about keeping the lights on and providing power in a consistent manner to support day-to-day life. Power companies, government agencies and researchers also must shore up resilience by preparing for, absorbing, adapting to and rapidly recovering from extreme weather and other emergencies.
To this end, the Energy Department is spending up to $50 million over three years to support grid modernization and resilience. This includes developing and enhancing microgrids with high penetration of clean distributed energy resources and emerging grid technologies. Examples include smart meters that can transmit real-time outage alerts and smart switches, devices which can detect problems in the grid and restore power automatically.
Utilities now can predict outages and their impacts on electric grids before a storm even strikes. They can use artificial intelligence technologies, weather forecasts and historical damage data to estimate the size and location of possible outages.
This helps utilities allocate repair crews and equipment during emergencies. It also helps utilities position generators where they are most likely to be needed.
After hurricanes and other extreme weather bouts are over, crews are dispatched to repair damage and restore power as fast as possible. Most utilities still rely on operators’ experience in scheduling crew works. But some now use advanced outage management systems to automate and expedite this process.
Utilities have historically relied on customers contacting them to report damage and outages. Without modern technology, there can be lags before a power company discovers problems it must fix when no one complains – as is inevitable during evacuations.
The proliferation of digital smart meters – electrical devices that record the consumption of electric energy and can digitally communicate with service providers – can help utilities identify outages in real time. Unlike conventional meters that only record monthly energy consumption, smart meters report power consumption and voltage every 15 minutes.
For example, when Hurricane Harvey soaked Texas in 2017, it took some utilities weeks to restore electricity to every customer. However, the Nueces Electric Cooperative, a nonprofit customer-owned electric utility, managed to restore power for 95 percent of its customers within 24 hours even though nearly half of them had experienced outages.
The cooperative managed to respond quickly and well because it had a comprehensive emergency plan and had figured out how to efficiently mobilize crews. The small utility accessed data from its customers’ smart meters to estimate the extent and locations of outages. By accurately pinpointing them, operators could efficiently dispatch crews and quickly restore service.
Artificial intelligence can also help by scanning social media to identify outages. And utilities are increasingly using drones to inspect the grid and identify damage that must be repaired after storms.
One step anyone take to avoid losing power after big storms is installing solar panels on their rooftops and connecting them to large battery storage systems. These backup systems are gaining popularity because they often work better than relying on the diesel-powered generators that are more commonly used as backup systems in the U.S.
For example, in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy in 2012, one notable area in lower Manhattan did not go dark: the New York University campus. Those buildings were running on a microgrid powered by two gas turbines and a steam turbine.
Likewise, microgrids helped keep the lights on in Houston homes and businesses, the freezers cold in supermarkets and the power humming at the Texas Medical Center after Hurricane Harvey, while most nearby areas had no electricity.
Most microgrids run on solar power or natural gas, backed up by batteries. In addition to generating power locally, they are handy because they can be disconnected from the main grid during outages, through what the power industry and researchers call “islanding.”
What’s more, these generation resources can be networked so that they can exchange power to meet overall electricity demands. This means surplus power in one microgrid can support other microgrids that don’t have enough.
In my view, deploying microgrids everywhere, including at hospitals, police stations, government buildings, schools and homes will make everything run more smoothly and safely during outages. Combined with the proliferation of other technologies, such as smart meters, and renewable energy, they are making the grid more resilient.
Families dig to find loved ones in Brazil dam collapse
By DIARLEI RODRIGUES, MARCELO SILVA DE SOUSA and DIANE JEANTET
Thursday, January 31
BRUMADINHO, Brazil (AP) — Under a scorching sun, Tereza Ferreira Nascimento on Wednesday dug through the mud with garden tools and her hands in search of her brother Paulo Giovane dos Santos, resigned to the reality that he was most likely dead six days after the collapse of a Brazilian dam holding back mine waste.
As search-and-recovery efforts continued, authorities also worked to slow the reddish-brown mud that was heading down a small river with high concentrations of iron oxide, threatening to contaminate a much larger waterway that provides drinking water to communities in five of the country’s 26 states.
Friday’s breach at the mine owned and operated by the Vale mining company led to a sea of mud that plastered several areas of the southeastern city of Brumadinho. To date, 99 people have been confirmed dead and 259 are missing.
“We have been here since Friday, taking turns between brothers, brothers-in-law, searching for the body so that we can at least give him a dignified burial,” said Nascimento, holding back tears. “So far it has been in vain.”
Nascimento’s sister-in-law, Sonia Monteiro, knelt down to smell the mud. Other smells, of dead animals, had thrown them off before, but this time they believed they were on the right track.
“We were sensing a smell here, more or less, so we are digging to see if we find him,” said Nascimento, 41.
In the distance, helicopters could be heard and firefighters, wearing masks because of the strong smell of decomposing bodies, worked several areas. In theory, they were still in search for survivors, but no one had been rescued alive since Saturday, making chances for a miracle less with each passing moment.
Authorities said that in some cases they were struggling to identify the deceased, as bodies were badly bloated or in pieces. They used dental records to identify those with no recognizable physical characteristics or usable fingerprints.
Vagner Diniz, 60, was holding on to some hope Wednesday that some of his five missing family members were still alive. His list of missing was staggering: his two adult children, Luiz and Camila; his daughter-in-law Fernanda, who was five months pregnant; and the biological parents of Luiz, who was adopted.
“This was a massive assassination,” said Diniz, who lives in Australia with his wife and had come to his native Brazil on vacation.
They had come to see their children, find out the sex of their expected grandchild and visit Inhotim, a world-renowned art museum about a 15-minute drive from Brumadinho.
“It was going to be a fantastic week,” said Diniz, visibly exhausted from long days trying to get information on his family.
Diniz believes that when the dam collapsed Friday, the family was in the Pousada Nova Estancia, an inn that got buried. On Tuesday night, he learned that his son’s body had been recovered.
It could be several days or weeks before many bodies are found, as the mud extends several yards (meters) deep. Firefighters have to be careful in spots where it is particularly mushy so as not to become trapped themselves.
To cover more ground, firefighters said they had recruited 58 volunteers to search in areas of low risk.
“The objective is to see if there is a possible trace of a body,” said Lt. Pedro Aihara, firefighters spokesman for the state of Minas Gerais, where the mine is located.
The release of the muddy waste has already turned the normally greenish water of the Paraopeba River brown about 10 miles (18 kilometers) downstream from the southeastern city of Brumadhinho, where the broken dam is.
The Paraopeba flows into the much larger Sao Francisco River, which provides drinking and irrigation water to hundreds of municipalities and larger cities such as Petrolina, in the state of Pernambuco, 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) from Brumadhino.
Authorities are focused on the Retiro Baixo hydroelectric dam and plant complex about 185 miles (300 kilometers) from Brumadinho. Officials and environmentalists hope the dam’s reservoirs can be used to isolate the muck so it can be cleaned before that water is released and travels farther downstream to the Sao Francisco River.
Technicians for Furnas, the company that operates the dam, have concluded the waste poses no structural risk to the dam, the company said in a statement.
The muddy water and waste, moving about 0.6 mph (1 kph), was expected to reach the dam between Feb. 5 and Feb. 10, according to the Geological Survey of Brazil. The survey said the waste was destroying vegetation and aquatic life.
In the Pataxco Indian village, dead fish and refuse such as plastic sandals were visible along the Paraopeba River’s banks.
“We used the river to take baths, to fish, to water our plants and now we can’t do any of that,” said village chief Hayo, who uses only one name and wore a large feathered headdress and a red-and-black beaded necklace.
Vale said in a statement it planned to install a fabric barrier to retain residues where the river reaches the city of Para de Minas, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) from Brumadinho. The company may also build levees near the Brumadinho mine in an effort to prevent the sediment from moving.
Vale has also been working to help victims, paying for funerals and announcing that people who lost family members would receive $27,000 in the form of a donation.
But for so many victims, angry and anguished, all they want right now is to find missing loved ones.
Francisco Adalberto Silva has been searching for son Francis Erik Soares Silva and nephew Luiz Pablo Caetano since the disaster. The two worked for a company that contracted with Vale, and were in the area of the collapse when it happened.
“I will keep coming. … I just want to give my son and nephew a dignified burial,” he said.
Associated Press reporter Diane Jeantet reported from Rio de Janeiro. AP reporter Renato Domingues, in Brumadinho, contributed to this report.