Winter Storm Benji punches Alabama with surprising snowfall

Winter Storm Benji punches Alabama with surprising snowfall
An Alabama Power crew works to restore power following Friday's surprisingly heavy snowfall. (Alabama Power)

A pre-winter storm that meteorologists predicted would provide a decorative sprinkle of snow instead dumped as much as a foot of the white stuff Friday on portions of Alabama. What was quickly dubbed Winter Storm Benji reached even to Mobile, breaking a record for the Gulf Coast city that had stood since record-keeping began in 1842.

The surprising snowfall, combined with freezing temperatures, affected more than 80,000 Alabama Power customers, from Mobile to Montgomery, Tuscaloosa to Birmingham. But the worst of it fell on east Alabama, where accumulations of 10 inches to a foot were reported in several locations. The heavy, sticky snow snapped or pushed down countless tree limbs onto powerlines, causing widespread outages.

While many people in north-central Alabama ended up with an extra day off Friday, Alabama Power crews hit the streets as soon as the first outages started coming in. The company quickly shifted crews to areas with the greatest damage, and brought in extra crews from sister utilities Mississippi Power and Gulf Power, as well as hundreds of contractor crews from eight states to help speed restoration.

By Sunday evening, 99 percent of Alabama Power customers affected by the storm – except for some hard-hit pockets in east Alabama – had service restored. Crews continued to work on Monday, and were expected to have the lights on for all customers who can take service by the end of the day.

The restoration work included significant repairs to transmission lines and equipment. By Saturday night, the company’s transmission teams had the system delivering its full capacity of energy from the company’s power plants to the distribution system that serves residents and businesses throughout the state.

The company deployed the full scope of its technological resources to restore power, including using drones to speed up inspection of lines and other critical infrastructure, from the air. Crews worked around the clock, over the weekend, across the state to restore power as quickly as safety allowed.

Meanwhile, Alabama Power’s Customer Services team responded quickly to a surge of calls and social media inquiries. During the storm and restoration, Customer Services agents responded to more than 14,000 calls, while the company’s automated phone system successfully fielded more than 200,000 inquiries. The Customer Services team also handled more than 2,700 inquiries via Facebook and Twitter.

“This storm was a real surprise – even the weather experts didn’t see this coming,” said Scott Moore, Alabama Power’s senior vice president of Power Delivery. “Fortunately, our teams train for the unexpected, and can work in a variety of conditions and temperatures. They moved quickly when things took a turn for the worse, and worked diligently to secure extra resources to help us get power restored quickly.”

“We know it’s no fun to be without power, especially when it’s cold,” Moore said. “We appreciate our customers, and we are committed to doing everything we can, when serious storms hit our territory, to get the lights back on as safely and quickly as possible.”

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