Duke Energy Highlights Hurricane Readiness, Resilience

The largest electricity provider in Moore County is gearing up for the peak of hurricane season.

During a presentation in Carthage on Thursday, representatives from Duke Energy talked about steps the company is taking to prepare for storm-related power outages that might occur in the coming months. Steve Leyton, a meteorologist employed by Duke Energy, said 19 named tropical storms are expected to form in the Atlantic Ocean this year, four of which are predicted to develop into major hurricanes.

“Based on our forecast right now, we are expecting above-average activity,” Leyton said, adding that this year still may not be “quite as active” as 2021, when 21 named storms were recorded.

Leyton said there is an “82-percent probability that a named storm will impact” North Carolina before hurricane season ends in November. With that comes the threat of service disruptions for Duke Energy’s more than 46,700 customers in Moore County.

Because Duke Energy serves nearly three quarters of the county’s electric customers, the company’s outages can upend life for large swathes of the community. Such was the case following a winter storm in January that left more people here in the dark than in any other county in the state — an issue David McNeill, district manager for Duke Energy, attributed to the county’s abundance of pine trees.

“They’re beautiful but when the ice gets on (them), it’s so heavy that it oftentimes causes limbs to break off and fall across power lines, causing power outages by snapping utility poles and knocking out power lines,” McNeill in an interview with The Pilot at the time.

Mark Spivey, Duke Energy’s director of operations in Moore County, said hundreds of workers were deployed to the area in the aftermath of that storm to help speed up the restoration process. Addressing a large audience of municipal leaders and elected officials at the Rick Rhyne Public Safety Center on Thursday, Spivey said Duke Energy would employ a similar strategy ahead of a tropical storm.

“Based on the forecasts, we can model the plans we need to get other people here and we can get additional help,” he said.

Certain customers, Spivey said, will always take precedence during severe weather events.

“First and foremost, we focus on hospitals, law enforcement, fire departments, medical facilities, waste management — things of that nature,” he said. “Those are our top priorities to get on first, especially hospitals. You know how important it is if you've got a hospital out, running on generators, to try to get them restored as quickly as possible.”

Later during the presentation, Jackson Rollins, director of unmanned aerial systems for Duke Energy, shared how the company uses its fleet of drones to assist with restoration efforts in the aftermath of a major storm.

“If you get flooded areas that are inaccessible by vehicle or by foot, a drone is a perfect tool to be able to go in and see where we can access this area to try and restore this power,” Rollins said. “We’re really able to be an eye in the sky for that type of event.”

Also during Thursday’s event, Scot Brooks, emergency manager for Moore County, said his department wants to implement a new “communications tool between the county and all of our partner agencies that we really hope will improve our efficiency.”

“You may hear more about that in the immediate future,” he said. “I hope we can get it in before hurricane season really begins to turn up for us.”

The two major storms that wrecked the most havoc in Moore County in recent years were Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Florence in 2018. The latter caused widespread flooding and temporarily left more than 28,300 residents without power, some of whom spent nearly a week in the dark.

Leyton, the metrologist, said climate change may bring more powerful storms to the Sandhills.

“The current thinking in the research world is that it's probably not going to have a significant effect on the number of named storms from year to year, but where the impact is going to be is that you're probably going to have stronger storms and storms that intensify more rapidly,” he said. “With climate change leading to warmer sea surface temperatures, warmer sea surface temperatures are going to lead to stronger storms and more intensification. And with that, there's more than a greater likelihood that we're going to see significant rainfall events at the coast as well.”

Duke Energy logo