National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce
icy power poles
Downed Power Lines / Power Outage Safety
NWS La Crosse

Freezing rain can lead to significant ice accumulation. The weight of ice accumulation can bring down power lines and poles easily, especially if you factor in wind that often accompanies a winter storm.

FACT:  Did you know freezing rain with light wind only accumulates ice on trees and power lines at 1/3rd the rate it does on flat objects?  Stronger winds (>15 mph) make that accumulation rate closer to the same.

Here are some safety tips that deal with downed power lines and power outages.

Downed Power Lines

Never touch a fallen power line. Never touch anything or anyone in contact with a power line. You could be shocked by contact with the line or a secondary object or person.

Reporting a Fallen Power Line

  • Call 911 and report it to local Sheriff or Police

When Vehicles Comes in Contact with a Power Lines

  • If you are inside a vehicle:
    • Stay inside the vehicle and warn others to keep away.
    • Wait inside the vehicle until rescue personnel arrive.
    • Do not make contact with metal parts in the vehicle.
  • If you have to get out of the vehicle because of a fire or other danger:
    • Jump out so that you do not touch the vehicle and ground at the same time.
    • Don’t run. Hop away keeping your feet together. Separating your feet can create two contact points with the ground and can result in a shock if the ground is energized by a fallen wire.

About Fallen Power Lines

When a live wire touches the ground, electricity fans out in a pool, similar to when a pebble hits water, with the voltage decreasing as it travels from the center. You can be shocked when in this area. Other factors play a role in the severity of the situation, such as wet conditions and the voltage of the wire.

Power Outage Safety

It is important that those without power use caution when trying to stay warm. Special caution should be used.

  • Generators should only be used outdoors, in well ventilated areas.  It is not safe to operate a generator in your house, or even in a garage attached to your house, even if the garage is well ventilated.  The exhaust from the generator contains carbon monoxide, an odorless, colorless gas that can seep into your house and kill you.
  • Don't try to hook up a portable generator to your home electrical service.  This not only endangers you, but also utility crews that are trying to restore service.
  • Only use appliances that are designed for heating to stay warm.  Never, ever, use a gas or charcoal grill, camping stove, or gas stove to generate heat.  In addition to carbon monoxide, prolonged use of these devices for warmth could cause them to overheat and lead to a fire.
  • One of the greatest threats during times of prolonged power outages are fires caused by the careless use of candles or fireplaces.  Also use care when refueling generators and kerosene heaters, as hot surfaces can ignite spilled fuel.