2016-12-29 / News

Falling Ice, Wind Bring Closures at the Mackinac Bridge and Power Outages

By Erich T. Doerr

Unseasonably warm weather and a strong windstorm resulted in closures at the Mackinac Bridge Monday, December 26, and power outages in other parts of the Eastern Upper Peninsula. About 4,900 EUP residents lost power owing to the storm.

There were two closures at the Mackinac Bridge Monday, a full shutdown because of falling ice in the morning and a partial closure that ran throughout much of the night owing to high winds. The bridge closures were the first this winter. It is rare to see separate closures for different reasons on the same day.

“Everything went smoothly,” said Bob Sweeney, executive secretary of the Mackinac Bridge Authority. “Our crews were able to get out there quickly and get the situation under control.”

Freezing rain late Sunday and early Monday was followed by temperatures well above freezing, which resulted in melting snow and ice. When chunks of ice broke loose from the suspension cables and fell to the bridge deck just after 10 a.m., the bridge was closed to all traffic. The falling ice did not hit any vehicles and traffic resumed just before noon.

Mr. Sweeney said the full closure resulted in phones ringing off the hook at the Mackinac Bridge Authority office as motorists on both sides sought updates on the situation.

Rising wind speeds resulted in a partial closure of the bridge beginning at 5 p.m., allowing car, van, and sport utility vehicles to cross at reduced speeds but directing high-profile vehicles such as semi trucks, buses, and pickups with any sort of trailer or rear cover to wait. The closure continued through 12:45 a.m. Tuesday, December 27. Traffic update signs as far away as Grayling were programmed to display a message to Straits-bound traffic about the partial closure. Mr. Sweeney said high-profile traffic made up less than 15% of all traffic at the bridge Monday. That number could have been higher, but a lack of snow meant there were fewer vehicles pulling snowmobile trailers.

The windstorm almost resulted in a second complete closure of the bridge. Sustained wind speeds reached 62 miles per hour and the bridge is automatically closed to all traffic when winds reach sustained speeds of 65 miles per hour. The highest gust was clocked at a hurricane force 76 miles per hour.

Monday’s windstorm, combined with the lingering effects of freezing rain that moved through the area Sunday, December 25, knocked out electrical service to about 4,900 Cloverland Electric Cooperative customers. Cloverland Communications Manager Todd Chapman said outages began occurring at about 3:30 a.m. Monday morning and almost all services had been restored by 3:45 a.m. Tuesday. By 10:30 a.m. Tuesday morning, less than 100 customers in the Eastern Upper Peninsula remained without power.

The majority of the outages occurred near Whitefish Point and Paradise, where 40- to 50-mile-per-hour winds blew tree limbs onto its electrical lines. The day’s largest single outage occurred near Whitefish Point and affected 1,300 customers. High winds, and outages also occurred along the stretch from Newberry to Manistique. Straits area crews based in St. Ignace restored 500 outages, many of them in and around Trout Lake.

“Cloverland appreciates our members’ patience when our crews are working,” Mr. Chapman said. “We try to post regular updates on our Web site,” cloverland.com.

Posted information includes an interactive outage map that shows gives live information based on data received from meters.

Mr. Chapman advises anyone who sees a downed wire to stay away from it and call Cloverland immediately at (800) 562-4953 to report it.

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