CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Craig Walters and his crew know they have work to do. They just don't know where.
A blizzard brought on by Hurricane Sandy dumped inches of wet, heavy snow on West Virginia Tuesday, knocking out electricity to more than 100,000 Appalachian Power customers. And although linemen often use helicopters to scout downed lines, lingering rain clouds and high winds prevented them from taking off.
Appalachian Power got one helicopter in the air Wednesday, but lingering storm conditions prevented it from traveling very far.
That's making life difficult for Walters' Pikeville, Ky.-based team.
On Wednesday, Walters, a transmission line supervisor with American Electric Power, was tasked with checking a transmission line off Cove Road in Cabin Creek. He was supposed to be on vacation this week but was dispatched to West Virginia on Wednesday, arriving in Cabin Creek around 1 p.m.
His five-man crew already had inspected a short section of the line by the time he arrived. It was an easily accessible stretch running from a power pole at the bottom of the mountain to a substation. There were not any problems there, however, so the issue had to be somewhere back in the woods.
With no helicopter, they would have to check each tower on the transmission line by foot or on all-terrain vehicles.
Transmission lines are the high-voltage lines that run through the mountains, sometimes on wooden poles and sometimes on giant steel structures, feeding power to substations.
Fixing downed transmission lines is one of the first steps to restoring electricity after an outage. The lines connected to your house are powered by a substation, which is powered by a transmission line.
Until crews get those transmission lines back in working order, no one's lights will come on.
In a helicopter, linemen can quickly fly over and assess damage. If they spot a problem, the helicopter crew reports it to AEP's transmission center. Crews on the ground then look up that structure's identification number in a computer system, which will tell them exactly where it is located and what they will need to fix it.