CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The head of Appalachian Power Co. said the June 29 derecho and Superstorm Sandy were similar in one respect: trees fell from outside the company's right of ways onto lines, knocking out power to thousands of customers.
Charles Patton, Appalachian Power's president and chief operating officer, said that in almost every other way the derecho and Sandy were different.
The biggest difference was the derecho hit without advance warning. Consequently, the company's first planning meeting came two hours after the storm swept through. That's when the company began asking for assistance from other utilities.
In contrast, Sandy "was well forecast," he said. "As a result, we began positioning crews three days before the storm. We had resources on the ground, in hotels, just waiting, the day Sandy struck here."
Another difference: The derecho caused damage over a large swath of the eastern United States, requiring Appalachian Power to seek help from far away. Sandy hit the northeast United States and West Virginia hard but didn't have a big impact on Ohio, Indiana and Michigan. Consequently, Appalachian Power was able to get resources from those states immediately, as well as from other American Electric Power subsidiaries in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana.
Patton recalled that two weather models were used to predict Sandy's path - a European model, which predicted heavy snow in West Virginia's higher elevations, and an American model, which didn't predict an impact on West Virginia.
"We erred on the side of the European model and secured American Electric Power resources," he said. "By the time we started needing resources, the national scene and the northeast were already heating up. We made the right decision. They were asking for our resources but we decided to keep ours home."
Another difference: Immediately after the derecho, Appalachian Power was able to survey the damage. But after Sandy engulfed the state in snow, there was heavy cloud cover, winds persisted, and it continued to snow - leaving 36 inches of heavy snow and even deeper drifts in some of the company's service territory.
"We could not use the type of tools we preferred," Patton said. "Helicopters are central to assessment efforts."
Helicopters couldn't be deployed for 3 1/2 days. The company had to use bulldozers, all-terrain vehicles and shoe leather to get to some of its facilities.
Another difference: After the derecho, it took Appalachian Power 13 days to restore service to 90 percent of its customers. After Sandy, it took four days.
Despite the problems Sandy posed, Patton said he wants to make this clear: "I prefer the three-day notice storm."
Perhaps one of the biggest differences was the magnitude of the storms. In West Virginia, about 437,000 Appalachian Power customers lost their electric service after the derecho, compared to about 150,000 after Sandy.
The costs will differ, too.
Appalachian Power has estimated the derecho cost the company $62 million in West Virginia. Patton guessed Sandy would cost about a third of that or $20 million to $25 million.
The state Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities, allows companies to recover all expenses related to storm damage, provided that the expenses are shown to have been prudent.