Shortening power outages: Seattle City Light has a plan

If you haven’t seen a transformer blow up, it’s pretty impressive. As we head into storm season here in the Pacific Northwest, it’s likely that at some point over the next few months, we’ll see at least one strong storm. So, what happens when the sparks fly at a substation?

Seattle City Light is getting ready and Monday they showed us how.

The storms we typically see sweeping through Western Washington head our way from Alaska. They can knock down trees and branches onto power lines, A newer technology this year is “automated switches.” Once a transformer blows, these switches help restore power to your home quicker and easier.

“That will isolate damage very quickly and route power around that damage so that everybody else on that line, will be back in power within a minute, instead of having to wait for our crew to get there and make those repairs and some of the manual switches that we would've had to do otherwise,” said Seattle City Light spokesman, Scott Thomsen.

When the winds are whipping, it’s wise to don’t hang out at your nearest light pole. Transformers, when they blow, you’ll often see that arc flash and release of energy. Thomsen told us it’s why the equipment is located high up or underground. A blown transformer can do damage to the equipment around it and can sever power lines, dropping them to the ground.

According ot Thomsen, “You should always treat any lines on the ground as if they are carrying electricity. That means stay away. If you happen to be inside a vehicle and the lines come down on top of the vehicle, stay where you are until utility crews can make sure the lines are de-energized.”

Part of the work SCL does ahead of time is to trim power lines. In fact, Thomsen told Q13 News that each year, the utility trims more than 600 miles of lines to avoid limbs taking them out.

If your power goes out City Light still relies on homeowners to let them know an outage has occurred, but that’s also changing thanks to technology advances. SCL is working to install advanced metering to it’s customers.

“We will now have the meter be able to tell us , ‘Hey, there’s a power outage,’ Thomsen said. “So that will speed that process. Instead of fumbling around through the dark, trying to find the phone and remember what our phone number is to call us, the meter is already going to be telling us that there’s an outage.”

He says City Light expects to have those meters installed sometime in 2018.

As City Light and other utilities prep for wonder, it’s a good time for you to do the same.

Start with an emergency preparedness kit.  Again this year, Q13 News is partnering with Take Winter By Storm, a public-private effort between King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, Seattle City Lights, the National Weather Service and other utilities and retailers, to get you ready for storm season.

The organization has tips to help you prepare for storms and access to a number of checklists to help you and your family before, during and after a winter storm.

And whenever storms hit, we’ll have the most up-to-date information on the weather, road conditions, and school closures on Q13 News and right here at