Friday, September 18, 2020

Winter in September: Early season snowstorm wreaks havoc

12 power outages across the county

By Katherine Nettles

For a mountain town that gets an average of more than 200 inches of snow each year, an early season snow storm that brought up to 12 inches of snow caused mayhem on Tuesday and Wednesday, September 8 and 9. There were downed trees, blocked roadways, widespread power outages, cell service outages, a missing tow truck driver and school closures as a result.

The storm, which began around 2 p.m. on Tuesday, came with high winds and dropped heavy snow across the Gunnison Valley, overburdening aspen and cottonwood trees that have not yet dropped their leaves for the year and power lines as well.

By 9 p.m. on Tuesday there were 753 locations without power, including the City of Gunnison, Almont and Crested Butte South. According to a press release from the City of Gunnison on Wednesday morning, “the City and County continue to have a large amount of residential and commercial power outages.” 

Gunnison reached out to surrounding area power providers and Forest Service sawyers to assist with power lines on the ground and fallen trees. There were delays because many surrounding communities were dealing with similar issues and had no personnel or equipment to spare.

Gunnison County Electric Association CEO Mike McBride wrote in an e-mail update to the Crested Butte News on Wednesday afternoon, “GCEA crews have worked 12 outages since yesterday afternoon. Most, if not all, were weather related. Nine have been resolved. One outage remains from last night and crews are looking for the cause on the south side of Blue Mesa Reservoir where access is a challenge.”

Wednesday, two more outages occurred. The first was at 10 a.m. north of Gunnison. Crews removed a tree from the line and restored power to the 936 members affected by that outage, and then another was reported in Almont shortly afer.

“Now that GCEA is getting on top of our outages, we have dispatched three linemen and a bucket truck to help the City of Gunnison. We will send another lineman and bucket truck to help as soon as power is restored north of Gunnison.

“Crews worked 21 hours straight with much of it, as you can imagine, under adverse conditions, and sometimes with significant difficulty getting to the problem,” wrote McBride.

With numerous broken and snapped power poles throughout the valley, crews were busy. Some areas in the city of Gunnison were not expected to get power back until Thursday.

Gunnison County had issues as well. Public Works director Marlene Crosby reported on Wednesday, that power was out at the Gunnison facility, as was AT&T service.  “Our communication is limited to radio contact,” she explained. Crosby was communicating from her residence using Internet and a landline.

“Our response has been slower than usual because we still have equipment in the high country where we have been doing road maintenance…Visibility was too bad yesterday to try and bring them in to the shop,” wrote Crosby.

Gunnison Watershed School District announced Tuesday night that all schools across the district would be closed on Wednesday.

“Our bus routes cannot be cleared by morning. In collaboration with Gunnison County, GCEA and City of Gunnison Power, we are helping maintain minimal traffic on roads as road crews and power crews work to clear downed trees, plow roads and restore extensive power outages,” stated the GWSD communications department.

Power was down in CB South from approximately 7:10 p.m. to 8:50 p.m. on September 8, caused by “snow unloading.” McBride described the situation: “Wet heavy snow accumulates on the lines weighing them down. When the snow falls off, the tension in the line causes the line to jump and it can come in contact with one of the other lines causing a fault. Protective equipment will generally reenergize the line up to 3 times before permanently remaining open (off).

“Restoration was a matter of waiting for the unloading to finish. Crews then patrolled the line to make sure there were no trees in the line, etc. and turned the power back on,” he wrote.

CB South Property Owners Association manager Dom Eymere said several homes with only a single source of electricity-generated or distributed heat were concerned with the sub-freezing overnight temperatures ahead. However, “They got it turned back on pretty quickly,” said Eymere. “We were lucky it was so short. But it makes you want to revisit your emergency management plan, and that’s something we are looking to do as an association as well.”

Finally, a driver from CB Towing who was assisting a vehicle in the Cement Creek area on Tuesday morning that had slid off the road was reported missing that evening, on September 8. He was found the following afternoon by a family member and Crested Butte Search and Rescue was dispatched to the scene. According to a CB Towing staff member, the driver “had gotten stuck and snowed in. He was not injured, just cold and hungry.”

Check Also

BLM painting on Elk Ave slated for Monday

Big and yellow By Mark Reaman Crested Butte’s Black Lives Matter mural is scheduled to …