About 8,000 electric utility customers in New Orleans East and St. Bernard Parish experienced outages Tuesday as freezing rain and sleet accompanied by high winds moved through south Louisiana, but power was mostly restored within an hour, Entergy officials said.
By 5:30 p.m., about 45 businesses and households were without power across the greater New Orleans area, including 20 customers in New Orleans and 13 in Jefferson Parish, according to the Entergy Storm Center website, which tracks power outages across the region.
Entergy officials warned Tuesday that some residents and businesses can expect to be without power for three to five days depending on the severity of the storm. The utility prepared for potential outages by bringing in more than 2,100 restoration workers to respond to problems, including some already working in the area, company officials said Tuesday.
“The impact of ice storms is very difficult to predict, but forecasts indicate the approaching weather system could be one of the most challenging the region has seen in years,” Dennis Dawsey, vice president of customer service for Entergy’s Louisiana utilities, said in a news release.
Hurricane Isaac’s heavy rains and high winds left hundreds of thousands of area homes and businesses in darkness for days in 2012, making the utility a lightning rod for criticism by customers who believed it wasn’t prepared. Entergy officials pledged they’d do better managing public expectations about how long power was likely to be out in the event of another storm.
That lesson learned is seemingly being applied now, as officials have been cautioning the five-day window for potential outages.
Meanwhile, a winter storm warning remains in effect for the entire New Orleans area and extends out to Lafayette and Baton Rouge.
Dawsey noted that “extreme cold weather can present additional challenges and require a different — and often slower — restoration process.”
As temperatures on either side of Lake Pontchartrain neared freezing Tuesday, utility officials warned that the chill could hinder their ability to quickly restore power because customers need to be brought online one area at a time to avoid additional outages and damage to the electrical system, Dawsey said.
Demand for power will be high, since utility customers rely on electrical heaters to keep warm. Restoring juice to an entire line at once could potentially put too much strain on the grid, causing the equipment to trip, officials warned.