Fresh off record-breaking power demand, TVA prepares for expected flooding this week

The potential is rising for a few strong to severe storms on Thursday

Just over a year after a winter storm caused rolling blackouts, the TVA made it through last week’s storm and frigid temperatures without service disruptions due to improvements made over the last year, a spokesman said, but now the authority must prepare for expected flooding.

“We were able to meet record load,” Tennessee Valley Authority spokesman Scott Fiedler said. “All power companies were able to support one another, our generating units came online as planned, and we successfully were able to meet record demand.”

Fiedler said the highest peak in demand in TVA history was 34,524 megawatts on Jan. 17 at 8 a.m. when the average regionwide temperature was 7 degrees, and the second highest peak was 34,284 megawatts at 8 a.m. Sunday when the average temperature was 12 degrees.

There were eight consecutive days peaking above 29,000 megawatts from Jan. 15 to Monday. “That is the first time since Aug. 2007 that has happened, and it has never happened in winter,” Fiedler said.

Last week was worse from a power demand standpoint than Winter Storm Elliot, Fiedler said. On Dec. 23, 2022, there was a peak power demand of 33,425 megawatts at 7 p.m. when the regionwide average temperature was 9 degrees.

“We saw significantly more power load this winter storm versus Elliot,” Fiedler said. “The storms were completely different. Elliot moved in very quickly across the eastern part of the U.S. and this last storm moved slowly.”

Due to Winter Storm Elliot, Fielder said, in 2023 TVA invested $123 million in winter readiness and reliability and will invest another $120 million this year to ensure their assets’ continued performance.

Flooding risk

More challenges may be ahead for the utility this week, this time from flooding.

Robert Boyd, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Huntsville, said rain in Madison and Limestone counties is expected to continue through Saturday. He said the rain accumulation for the week is expected to be between 3 and 4 inches.

Boyd said there is a flash flood watch in effect through Thursday evening, but it could be extended.

“It’s the amount of rain, for one thing, and the amount of moisture in the air. It’s pretty high for this time of the year,” he said. “Also, we just got a real hard freeze. The ground’s not really frozen, but it’s not going to let it soak in. The plants are in a dormant stage right now so they don’t soak the water off the ground like they would in the summer. It just runs off, so it gives you more opportunities to have flash flooding and flooding.”

Boyd said area residents should to be prepared to move to higher ground in the case of flash flooding, and should be especially cautious about driving.

“You don’t want to drive through water,” he said. “If you can’t see the road, it’s better not to drive across it because the road may be washed away.”

Fiedler said TVA is taking precautionary steps for the upcoming rain.

“We are moving a tremendous amount of water through the system because we’re (also) getting runoff from last week,” he said. “There was anywhere from 6 to 10 inches of snow up in east Tennessee and that translates to about an inch, inch and a half of water.”

TVA is reducing its reservoirs by spilling at five of their nine mainstream dams, Fiedler said. He said spilling consists of flowing water over the top of the dams from one lake to another.

“We would like everyone if you’re out fishing or boating this weekend to be careful as currents will be strong and water may rise,” he said. “If people are out on the water, do not approach the dams as we could be releasing more water.”

Fiedler said they will be increasing the water level in the lakes to the highest levels used during summers.

“This is a perfect example of why we lower lake levels in the fall so we could prepare for these winter events and rainstorms and snowstorms, so we have the flood storage available to protect our communities,” he said. “This will reduce any type of potential flooding impacts to our communities.”

Fiedler said the rain will help TVA’s hydroelectric power.

“That’s the silver lining with rain,” he said. “It’s free fuel for us so we will generate more hydroelectric which helps reduce the cost of power.”

Boyd said the predicted high temperatures from Wednesday through Saturday will be in the mid-60s with the predicted lows being in the 60s Wednesday night, in the 50s Thursday and Friday night, and in the 40s Saturday night. Sunday is expected to be dry with the predicted high around 50 degrees and a low Sunday night in the 30s.

In addition to the heavy rain threat, confidence is increasing in the potential for a few strong to severe storms on Thursday. The main threats with any strong to severe storms will be damaging winds and a few tornadoes. Hail and frequent lightning will also be possible.

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