The “Tom Lee Storm” is the name Memphis, Light, Gas & Water (MLGW) officials use when talking about last week’s storm that caused about $15.1 million in damage and left more than 188,000 in the dark.
MLGW officials gave their first public report on the storm and its aftermath to the Memphis City Council Tuesday. Revelations during the MLGW committee meeting were short but interesting details were many.
The storm, which rolled in Saturday, June 27, brought rain, lightning, hail, and microburst winds that exceeded 100 miles per hour, according to Alonzo Weaver, MLGW’s vice president of engineering & operations.
It wreaked havoc - knocking down trees and electrical poles - all over Memphis but especially in Midtown, the Brooks Road area, Whitehaven, and the Getwell Road area, Weaver said. The storm also knocked over the stone obelisk in Tom Lee Park, drawing the “Tom Lee Storm” moniker.
Tuesday marked the 10th day of restoration work by the Memphis utility. As of Tuesday morning, MLGW said only about 1,800 customers remained without power. MLGW used its own crews, of course, but also brought in 101 outside contract crews to repair electrical systems and 78 tree-trimming crews, Weaver said.
Weaver said in the 10-day stretch of power restoration, he’s heard many ask why Memphis can’t bury its power lines to avoid major outages. He said the cost to do so would be about $3.6 billion, a figure he said delivers a “negative payback.”
Weaver explained that storm restoration efforts here since 1994 have cost $94 million. Of that figure, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has reimbursed $44 million.
So, instead of the long process to bury the city’s lines, he said, MLGW is now working on a five-year, $18 million plan to improve the city’s overhead lines.
“Undergrounding (power lines) is not cost effective,” Weaver said. “But making our current system smarter and making it tougher is and that’s our plan going forward.”