By Brandi Merlo and Lynsey Paulo
SACRAMENTO — Most times, family comes first. But for PG&E Sacramento/Sierra Electric Superintendent Tim Lewis, PG&E’s customers came first during the recent series of storms that pounded Northern California.
PG&E’s meteorologists forecast the “atmospheric river” weather event that brought more than 4 feet of snow to the mountains, heavy rains producing floods and wind gusts up to 70 mph to the energy company’s service area. The storms caused widespread power outages from the Central Coast to the Valley floor to the highest peaks of the Sierra.
For more than a week, Lewis has coordinated 30 electric crews working long days in snow, rain, floods, high winds, falling trees, road closures, and mud and rock slides.
“We were prepared for the weather, but we haven’t had a winter like this in so long,” he said. “This has been a huge storm with every possible element thrown our way.”
The back-to-back storms meant all hands on deck. And, it’s why Lewis canceled a long-planned trip to Disneyland with just his wife — no kids or grandkids. It’s where the couple honeymooned 38 years ago.
And it wasn’t just local crews responding. PG&E crews from as far away as Kern County, along with mutual aid crews from Roseville, Redding and Lodi public utilities, all have been working to restore power to thousands of customers as a result of hundreds of power outages. Restoration work has included restringing wire, setting poles, replacing equipment and removing hazard trees in the rain, wind and snow.
“The last week or so we’ve dealt with lots of trees down, heavily wooded areas, lots of mud, lots of water, all the streams looks like creeks, the creeks looked like rivers, the rivers looked like canals,” said Adam Cole, an Auburn-based electric foreman.
So why does he do it?
“It’s my job. I enjoy helping people get the lights back on,” he said.
And it’s in his blood.
Just down Interstate 80 from where Cole’s crew was working, another PG&E crew was snowshoeing through 4-foot deep snow to access a job site to replace broken equipment to restore power to nearby businesses. Scott Cole, Adam’s dad, led that crew. He’s been through a lot of storms in his many years on the job.
“This is pretty bad, lot of snow, lot of rain, lot of obstacles,” said Scott Cole. “The highway was closed, foot of snow on highway, it was pretty bad just trying to get to the job.”
Crews used Sno-Cats, helicopters, line trucks and specialized track equipment to get the lights back on to some remote areas.
Many others provided support moving materials, completing important paperwork and coordinating trucks, lodging and meals. In all, 3,500 employees answered the call for this storm response.
“Our employees work hard and make sacrifices year round but especially when winter storms cause outages for our customers,” Lewis said.
Weather permitting, Lewis is hoping to have all customers in the mountain and foothills communities restored and work wrapped up by Friday (Jan. 13). After that, he can think about rescheduling that trip to “The Happiest Place on Earth” and taking a much-needed break with his wife.
Email Currents at Currents@pge.com.