Duke Energy has begun preparing for potential damage in Charlotte from Hurricane Irma, opening a storm center Thursday in uptown as forecasts kept the Carolinas in the possible path of the killer weather system.
The opening of the emergency operation center, which would coordinate Duke’s deployment of repair crews in the region, came as Irma remained a Category 5 hurricane with landfall expected early Sunday in Florida. Though much can change, the National Hurricane Center on Thursday predicted Irma’s center passing to the west of the Charlotte metro area early Tuesday, when it would be a weaker tropical storm.
As of Thursday, Duke was closely monitoring the storm but had not shifted any additional resources into the Charlotte area, although it has the ability to quickly do so if needed, spokesman Tim Pettit said in an interview. Duke also opened a similar center in Raleigh on Thursday, after establishing one Wednesday in St. Petersburg, Fla.
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“We will continue to further refine our preparations as the track gets more and more clear,” Pettit said. “Our plans are plans that are designed for extreme impacts to our system, all the way to … something that’s less than that.”
It remains unclear what affect Irma might have on customers of Charlotte-based Duke, the region’s dominant electric utility, serving millions of customers across the Carolinas. The storm has called to mind another massive system that affected Charlotte, 1989’s Hurricane Hugo, which also ballooned into a Category 5 storm.
Duke director of meteorology Nick Keener said Hugo is among previous storms the utility is using to model Irma’s possible affects on the company’s infrastructure. He said Duke is expecting Irma to have “a significant impact” in the Carolinas, though he declined to speculate how that might translate into outages.
“I think the people in Charlotte need to prepare for rain and high wind gusts associated with the passing of Irma, particularly on Monday night, and then that could impact power in certain areas,” Keener said. “With a storm of that magnitude, if it passes near the Charlotte area, it’s going to cause outages, and we’re prepared for it.”
Duke’s storm center is housed in its old headquarters at 526 S. Church St., one block over from its current headquarters tower at Stonewall and Tryon streets. In addition to opening the center, Pettit said Duke has hundreds of volunteers across the company prepared to assist with fielding customer calls and other response efforts.
On Saturday, Duke restoration crews from the Midwest are scheduled to travel to a staging area in Georgia, where they will receive further instructions about where to go from there depending on Irma’s track, Pettit said. If needed, they could assist in Charlotte, he said.
Duke can also lean on other utilities to provide crews, if it needs outside assistance in Irma’s aftermath, Pettit said. The company has already communicated about that issue with the Southeastern Electric Exchange, a trade association of electric utilities, where such help is requested, he said.