Car crashes and storms reign as 2022 outage causes

Tree-related outages numbers were much improved, however

A number of high-impact car crashes and powerful storms in Grays Harbor County led to an increase in service outage times for customers.

The number of outages fell, said Ian Cope, communications director for Grays Harbor Public Utility District, but the outages affected more customers for longer periods.

“We saw an increase in the number of car-pole accidents, and the poles that were hit served a large number of customers, meaning the impact was far more widespread,” said General Manager Schuyler Burkhart in a news release.

Last year saw 278 outages, compared to 312 the year before, according to the news release. Half of the 22 large scale outages, defined as an event with more than 3,000 customer hours without power, occurred in December, according to the news release.

“That stretch, over November, December — I thought we were going to get out of the year and then December happened,” Cope said. “It was one thing after another.”

That heavy weather, a solid month of outages, drove numbers way up.

“For the second year in a row, we saw a very small number of events account for the majority of our power interruptions,” said PUD Board President Arie Callaghan in the news release. “When you live on the Washington coast, you know that the weather is going to have an impact on your system. That’s why we have crews, dispatchers, and service personnel ready to respond at all hours and in all conditions to get the lights back on.”

Crews worked hard to keep the lights on even as inclement weather and errant drivers led the county toward a different outcome, Cope said.

“Our crews go out in all weather, all hours of the day, as long as it’s safe to get the power back on,” Cope said. “Our crews get the lights back on as quickly and as safely as possible.”

The largest single outage was when a car struck a pole on Highway 12 on Dec. 18, knocking out power to 16,000 customers and killing service for more than 123,000 customer hours — the number of customers affected multiplied by the amount of time each customer was without service. 2022 saw several car crashes striking poles that represented vulnerable parts of the network.

“They were very busy poles with a lot of infrastructure on them,” Cope said. “That’s why we saw such a significant outage on that one.”

On the other side of the balance, tree-related outages dropped sharply, with only 152 in 2022 — the lowest number since 2019 and far below average, according to the news release. Cope attributed it the PUD’s cycle of trimming back vegetation before it becomes an issue.

“Ultimately it comes down to the fact that we put a lot of attention in vegetation management,” Cope said. “We’ve been doing this now for eight years so we’re into our second or third cycle of tree trimming. It’s that preventative maintenance that we try to do.”

The program, handled with contractors selected through a competitive bid process, includes mowing undergrowth, working with property owners to take out danger trees, and delimbing other trees, Cope said, among other processes.

“A lot of outages are unavoidable but there are things we can do to try to lessen impact,” Cope said. “When you’re in a coastal area strong winds are going to come through.”

Contact Senior Reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or