Kansans remember 2005 ice storm, changes made since then

WICHITA, Kan. If you were in Kansas in 2005, there's a good chance you remember the major ice storm that hit that winter. The storm caused widespread power outages, downed trees and damaged homes. Although another winter storm is headed toward Kansas this weekend, experts say some things have been learned over the last decade that might make it more bearable.

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"Meteorologists were warning us for days," said Wichita resident Carol Skaff, as she remembered the 2005 storm.

"It was just awful," added Debbie Ellison.

The 2005 ice storm left a mark on most people who lived in the counties hit by it.

"The roads were just horrible, trying to get down Kellogg," Ellison remembered.

"The other thing I remember is the crashing of the ice coming out of the trees," said Skaff.

Shane Batchelder remembers the storm too. Now he works for Westar Energy and said the company has made several improvements that make going into a winter storm seen not quite as bad. First, the cimpany started the Reliabilitree Program in 2010. Westar crews travel around trimming trees away from homes and power lines, so they do less damage if they fall.

"Really, since we've started that program we've seen about a 60 percent decrease in tree-related outages," Batchelder said.

Batchelder also said technology is helping them stay prepared, and helping customers keep up with what's happening as it's happening.

"Smartphones, apps, texting, all those things that we utilize and our customers utilize," he said. "If they experience an outage they can report it that way, they can track it that way, they can see our outage maps."

With smart meter, outages are reported instantly. Batchelder said in 2005, it wasn't that simple.

"We would ask customers to turn their porch light on to let us know that they've got power and then we can tell if we still have a few minor outages," Batchelder explained.

But even with their advances, he hopes to never seen another storm like 2005.

"It was certainly an eye-opener to how severe something like ice could be," he said.

About 32 counties were affected by the 2005 ice storm. That storm and its damage cost about $40 million to clean up.