There’s no doubt a fresh, glistening coat of new-fallen snow lining the streets, and ice-coated tree limbs, branches and rooflines can create seasonal warm and fuzzies, and deliver a heavy dose of winter nostalgia straight to our hearts. Michigan’s natural winter beauty often leaves us awestruck – sometimes at how a half-inch of snow can add hours to our daily commutes – and on occasion, inspires us to leave the comfort of the indoors to go outside, take a closer look and enjoy the elements.  

But winter weather can also create deadly conditions across the energy grid that you and your family should keep in mind. By better understanding the most frequent causes of downed wires during the winter months, you’ll be better prepared to recognize and avoid potentially deadly encounters, and to keep others safe as well.  

  • Powdery snow – travels to the earth’s surface without traveling through above-freezing air.
  • Heavy, wet snow – same as above, but in this case, temperature above the earth’s surface is just above freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit). This makes the snow melt slightly, adding more moisture.
  • Freezing rain – frozen precipitation melts in a layer of warm air, then freezes on impact when it reaches cold surfaces (below 32 degrees Fahrenheit).

Precipitation, pianos and cows – oh my! 

How much damage can a little rain or snow do to sturdy trees and the energy grid? You might be surprised.

Amazingly, just a half-inch of ice can add 500 pounds (the weight of a baby grand piano!) to a single span of power line, and can increase the weight of a single tree branch by about 3,000 percent. So basically, the weight of a 10-foot long maple tree limb that’s only 6 inches in diameter will balloon from around 100 pounds to more than 3,000 pounds – that’s the equivalent of two fully grown dairy cattle!

While tree species in Michigan and the energy grid are relatively resilient, placing the weight of binary bovine and/or a baby grand on either isn’t ideal in ensuring electric safety or reliability at your home. And since the cells of many native trees get rid of their fluid content in the winter, limbs and branches are more likely to snap than bend like they do during warmer months, increasing the likelihood they’ll break, bring down nearby power lines and create a potentially deadly situation.

In short, if freezing rain or heavy snow is coming down, it’s critical that you’re aware of your surroundings and prepared to react safely and quickly. Keep the following tips below in mind in the event of freezing rain or heavy snow. Doing so could save lives.

Downed-wire safety information

  1. Look up to know what’s down. Spotting a downed power line isn’t always easy, especially in the winter. Wires can become concealed between trees and tree branches, beneath snow, or in tall weeds and grass. Look up at power lines to better position yourself to identify hidden dangers.
  2. Stay an ambulance-length away. Consider all power lines energized and stay at least 20 feet away – that’s about the length of an ambulance – from them and anything they may come into contact with.
    1. Remember not all lines arc, smoke or buzz.A silent, seemingly lifeless black wire can still deliver a deadly shock, and can energize the ground and objects around it. Never attempt to touch, pick up or move a downed power line with your hands or any object, and never touch anything or anyone in contact with a power line.
  3. Call it in. Once you’re out of harm’s way, call 9-1-1 or contact us at 800.477.4747 to report the downed power line. Don’t assume someone else has done – or will do – it. By reporting the issue ASAP, you’ll help us identify a potential public safety hazard quickly so we can prioritize our response.

Visit dteenergy.com/wiresafety for more info about how to be safe around electricity.