Lessons learned from 2007 ice storm that knocked out power all around Tulsa

TULSA - The ice storm of 2007 didn't just freeze power lines and tree limbs, it froze time.

Businesses couldn't open. Kids couldn't go to school. People had to search for ways to find warmth.

Andrea Nielsen remembers it well. She owns a gift store. The lights went out during one of the busiest times of year.

"You do depend on December quite a bit," said Andrea Nielsen of Nielsen Gifts.

Nielsen was determined to keep the store open, so they got creative.

"We got all the candles in the store and lit them around the dining table, and my husband, Gary, went and got food for all of us," said Nielsen.

Meanwhile, PSO crews were busy trying to restore power to 250,000 customers in Oklahoma.

The December 2007 ice storm was the most significant weather event we've ever experienced," said Stan Whiteford of PSO.

Tackling the outages was a huge undertaking so PSO came up with a plan. The power company divided the city into four quadrants and assigned a leader to each one. The leader was responsible for making sure power got restored to customers in their area.

"That's turned out to be a great way, we really decentralize the way we normally work small storm recovery into this quadrant aspect and that's turned out to be a great, great asset for us," said Whiteford.

PSO also had to call in lots of contractors to help with the power restoration effort. More than 5,000 crew members came in from across the country.

"That was a massive undertaking and we learned so much about the logistics of handling that many people," said Whiteford.

There are two ways ice can bring down power lines.

It's so heavy it builds up on power lines and the lines break, or a tree branch can get weighed down by the ice and fall on the line. In this case, both caused outages.

"That was just about the perfect storm of ice storms," said Whiteford.

PSO says since then, it has cut back more tree limbs that are close to power lines. While PSO worked to restore power, thousands of trees were crippled.

Johnson Park, once a field, turned into a forest of tree limbs. The branches were eventually turned to mulch. It took more than a year to pick up all the debris.

"We lost tens of thousands of trees citywide," said Steve Grantham, the Interim Executive Director of Up With Trees.

Up With Trees, a non-profit, wanted to replace trees that were lost in the ice storm, so it started a campaign to raise funds to buy, plant and maintain trees.

The donations started pouring in.

"That $3 million is being used to plant those 10,000 trees," said Grantham.

For six years, Up With Trees and volunteers have planted more than 8,000 trees, with a goal of 10,000. Up With Trees plans to plant 800 of the remaining trees along the I-44 corridor.

As for Nielsen, the ice storm did cause some delays getting merchandise in, but it all worked out. This year she embraced the December snow, just like she embraced the weather six years ago. She said it got her in the holiday spirit.

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