By Jennifer Robison
For PG&E customers, spring didn’t come in like a lion.
The season came in more like a pride of lions.
Heavy wind and rain swept across the company’s service area on Thursday and Friday (April 6-7), extending a record-setting winter storm season that has raged with little respite since October.
Out in the field, PG&E’s linemen and troublemen greeted the storm with the same determination they’ve applied for the last six months.
“There’s definitely been a lot of unity. Our crews have really come together,” said Bryant Skaskiw, a lineman apprentice based in San Jose. “There’s a lot of cooperation, and everyone is putting safety first. It’s all about teamwork. You have to be your brother’s keeper.”
The latest weather front ranked as PG&E’s strongest outage-producing April storm since 1995, said company meteorologist Scott Strenfel.
Compounding its intensity, the storm took an unusual path, pounding the heart of the Bay Area, rather than concentrating in the North Valley or along the Central Coast. That meant more customers affected in a smaller geographic area, said Mike Swanson, incident commander of the Emergency Operations Center in San Francisco.
“It makes restoration a little more challenging in terms of dealing with traffic and getting resources where we need them,” Swanson said.
But as they have since fall, PG&E’s crews rose to the challenge to bring power back to most customers in less than a day.
“Our crews have been out there restoring service in some of the harshest weather conditions,” Swanson said. “They’re doing it safely, and they’re responding both to customers and to our 911 partners. It makes me proud to wear the PG&E logo.”
Nearly 216,000 customers were affected systemwide on April 6 and 7. The number of customers still without power had fallen below 29,000 by midday Friday, 18 hours after the storm began.
The latest effort added to a record restoration response in 2017. PG&E saw 20 major event days from January through the first week of April. The company has already bested its prior record year for major event days, set at 12 in all of 2011, the last major storm year.
PG&E restored more than 2.3 million customers from January through April 7 — 44 percent more than the 1.6 million customers it restored in 2011.
“This is what we do: We take care of our customers,” said Evermary Hickey, PG&E director of preparedness and response support. “This is where the planning, the drills and the prestaging help us succeed.”
As PG&E’s crews closed in on full restoration late Friday, company officials began weighing requests from energy companies in other Western states hit hard by late-season storms, Hickey said. Companies in the Pacific Northwest were asking PG&E for mutual-aid crews. PG&E tapped dozens of mutual-aid crews from across the region earlier in the season to safely speed up restoration.
Rain-related restoration efforts may not be finished for the year. Winter storm season can reach into mid-May, Strenfel said, though intensity typically drops off significantly in April and May.
Skaskiw, a lineman apprentice for more than two years, said he looks forward to teaming up with his fellow crew members regardless of what the weather brings.
“This is the first six months where I’ve spent more time in a bucket,” he said. “When you’re in a bucket by yourself, you’re helping out the crew a lot more.”
Email Currents at Currents@pge.com.