Updated: Thousands of Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County residents could be without power until the weekend
Thousands of Washtenaw County residents could be without power until the weekend depending on the length and severity of the winter storm that blew in Wednesday, a DTE spokesman said.
Power has been restored this morning in some neighborhoods, including the area near South Maple and West Liberty.
And four westside Ann Arbor schools were closed this morning because of the storm: Wines, Haisley, Dicken and Forsythe, school officials reported on the district's webpage.
The storm - at various times packing rain, snow flurries and wind gusts of 40 mph - was blamed for a fire in a major power transformer at West Liberty Street and Maple Road that knocked out power to much of Ann Arbor’s west side at about 6 p.m. Wednesday.
A power line also was knocked down across I-94 at Jackson Road, closing the expressway in both directions, and backing up traffic for miles. There were numerous accidents and spin-offs reported on I-94 and other area roads.
“We have 11,000 customers in Washtenaw County that are currently without power,” DTE spokesman John Austerberry said Wednesday night. “The winds are still very strong, and we expect new outages throughout the evening and into next morning.”
“We will be out doing repairs through the day Thursday, Friday and likely into sometime Saturday,” he said.
The blast of high winds and winter weather that started Wednesday morning wreaked havoc around Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County. Earlier in the day, M-14 at Main Street was shut down because of downed power lines on the roadway. The highway reopened about 2 hours later.
One of DTE Energy’s main transformers at the Hemlock substation at Maple Road and West Liberty Street, caught fire around 6 p.m., cutting power to 6,300 customers on Ann Arbor’s west side, Austerberry said.
Jonathan Greenberg of Ann Arbor said he was driving home with his son, Noah, when they saw a series of flashes and explosions as they turned west onto Liberty from Stadium Boulevard. He said as they approached Maple Road there was a massive explosion and a huge flash of light, followed by flames.
"I've seen a few things blow up, but never a substation," he said. "That was pretty cool."
Shortly after that, I-94 was closed in both directions near Jackson Road because of a downed power line across freeway.
Around 9 p.m. - just as some drivers stuck in the traffic backup reported they were running out of gas - Michigan State Police started turning around westbound traffic before Jackson Road onto the eastbound side, back to Ann Arbor-Saline Road.
DTE’s first priority, Austerberry said, is to repair any outages affecting public health and safety, such as hospitals, nursing homes and police and fire stations. He said was not aware of any outages in those facilities around the county.
“After that, we prioritize which repairs will restore the most customers,” he said, noting that the crews are already working to restore Hemlock substation transformer.
The Ann Arbor Municipal Airport’s Automated Weather Service last night reported winds of 20 to 30 mph with gusts up to 45 mph.
Thursday’s forecast calls for temperatures of 17 to 21 degrees with wind chills around zero. Twenty- to 30-mph. winds are expected from the west throughout the day with gusts to 40 mph, and there is a 50 percent chance of snow.