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COVID-19 precautions mean slower power outage response during western Washington storm season

"Our crews will be sanitizing equipment and social distancing as much as possible. That will take some extra time. We're asking people to be patient."

BELLINGHAM, Wash. — It's one of the first signs of fall: limbs falling from trees, taking out power lines after a hot, dry summer in western Washington. 

The Bellingham area was hit especially hard Wednesday by heavy rains and gusty winds as utility workers around Puget Sound brace for a winter unlike any other.

"It's gonna be a different storm season for sure, this year," said Aaron Swaney of the Snohomish County PUD.

Swaney said this first storm of the season should serve as a reminder that downed power lines are deadly, even if you don't touch them.

"We say at a minimum stay 30 feet away. You can be in range of them and the current will go through the ground and shock you. It's a very very dangerous situation," he said. 

While this week's storm itself is nothing out of the ordinary, the circumstances surrounding it certainly are. COVID-19 has utility crews taking extra precautions, so response times could be delayed. 

RELATED: Western Washington forecast

"Our crews will be sanitizing equipment and social distancing as much as possible," said Swaney. "That will take some extra time. We're asking people to be patient."

The key is to keep all utility workers on the job throughout the storm season.

"We are being very careful. We have crews that are on their own staying healthy and safe," said Swaney. "If someone was to get COVID, we have crews that are isolated because this is critical infrastructure. We want to make sure we have people who can respond safely and timely."

With Wednesday's storm coming on just the second day of fall, and so many Washingtonians now working and learning from home, Swaney said preparing for the storms that lie ahead could be more important than ever.

"Make sure your emergency kit is stocked up with nonperishable food, a flashlight, batteries. Make sure your cell phone is charged so you can communicate. Maybe consider getting a generator for when the power goes out so you can stay connected," explained Swaney. "We know there are more people working from home and going to school from home. The disruptions can be greater. We just want everyone to be prepared."

RELATED: Rain and wind expected to increase in Puget Sound today, chance of isolated thunderstorms tonight