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Spring storm shuts down power across SW Nebraska PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wauneta Breeze   
Thursday, 21 April 2011 21:17

By Tina Kitt

The Wauneta Breeze

 

Most everyone across the region got a chance to play “pioneer” when a whopper of a spring snow storm hit the area, causing widespread power outages, some lasting for several days.

Even those living in town got a dose of the power outage when one of Nebraska Public Power District’s 115kV lines went down in the heavy wet snow Thursday evening knocking out power to all of Southwest Public Power District’s service area — including the towns of Wauneta, Palisade, Hayes Center, Culbertson, Trenton, Stratton, Benkelman and Haigler — as well as rural areas.

Imperial was also without electricity for much of the night Thursday.

NPPD crews were dispatched and able to bring the line back into service around 9 p.m. That enabled SWPPD’s crews to restore service to most, but not all, of their customers in Hitchcock, Hayes and the eastern part of Chase and Dundy counties. High winds and heavy blowing snow forced REA crews back to their headquarters around 11 p.m.

Power poles across southwest Nebraska, like these just west of Champion, snapped like toothpicks in the high winds and heavy slushy snow that smothered the region Thursday and Friday, leading to widespread power outages — some lasting days. (Tina Kitt | The Wauneta Breeze)

 

The storm led to the cancelation of numerous events across western Nebraska and forced the closure of Interstate 80 from North Platte west to the state line until Friday afternoon. There were no classes at Wauneta-Palisade Schools on Friday and no Friday night movie at the Chateau Theatre.

The storm also created headaches and worries for ranchers who are calving or with cattle still out on cornstalks or other unprotected areas.

According to National Weather Service meteorologists, winds ranged from 35 and 45 miles per hour with gusts exceeding 55 mph at times. The wind, coupled with the heavy, wet snow made for hazardous driving conditions and power outages.

The spring storm settled into the area Thursday afternoon, after moving up from the southern Rockies. It brought with it rain, snow and graupel, similar to soft hail or jagged snow pellets. It forms when cold water droplets condense on snowflakes.

Kathy Barent snapped this photo of wind blown snow drifting over the corrals Friday near her Hayes County home located 2 miles north and 1 mile east of the Elmer Cemetery.

 

For those who had to be out in the storm the wind-driven graupel delivered a stinging blast to exposed skin.

The instability in the air caused some thunderstorms and was associated with the system that created the deadly string of tornados that tore across the southeastern U.S. over the weekend.

The storm left up to 16 inches of snow and affected a 120-mile stretch of I-80 for more than 17 hours. Warnings for hazardous conditions were in effect for the western half of the state Thursday and Friday.

State Patrol spokeswoman Deb Collins says the storm stranded dozens of motorists, mostly in a 12-mile-long construction zone between Paxton and Ogallala. Other motorists were stranded to the north on Nebraska Highways 2 and 92.

State Roads Department spokeswoman Mary Joe Oie says there were no reports of traffic deaths or serious injuries, according to Associated Press reports.

In the Wauneta area, some rural residents opted to ride the storm out in town and the Wauneta United Methodist parsonage offered a safe haven to an Imperial UMC member and her daughter from Grant overnight Thursday.

Even after days of temperatures in the 60s and 70s after the storm passed a number of county roads remained plugged by snow, like this one along the Chase/Dundy county line west of Highway 61 which remained impassable Tuesday.

 

Numerous reports of vehicles in the ditch were reported by local law enforcement officials in Chase County as visibility was less than a quarter of a mile in the blizzarding conditions Thursday night and Friday morning. Snow drifts surpassing 5 feet were also reported.

Despite the hassles created the storm did deliver some badly needed precipitation.

In the Wauneta area moisture totals approached 2 inches, with 1.75 inches and 1.63 inches reported by NeRAIN recorders just south of town. There are no NWS measurements available for Wauneta.

Between Enders and Imperial precip totals of 2.15 inches were reported. Nearly 3 inches of precipitation was reported at Hamlet.

 

Battle to restore electricity

SWPPD crews were able to restore electricity to all rural residential customers by Sunday, but are still working to repair downed power lines supplying electricity to irrigation motors and stock wells.

Crews were dispatched early Friday morning but had little success in reaching downed poles and lines due to drifting snow and high winds, with the 55 mph winds and deep snow drifts preventing them from reaching western Dundy County.

At least 44 poles were snapped as a result of the storm, reports SWPPD General Manager Don Suda, causing an estimated $200,000 in damage.

The $200,000 estimate in damages is preliminary and final costs will be tallied after permanent repairs are completed, Suda said.

There remain many places where power lines have been weakened. These lines will need to be patrolled and permanent repairs made. Suda is hopeful that all permanent repairs will be wrapped up by the end of the week.

SWPPD expressed their appreciation to all those who assisted them in getting through the snow drifts, utilizing tractors and other equipment.

“A big thank you goes to Century 21 out of Imperial for their assistance with a front end loader to get us through the snow drifts, and to the Dundy County Road Department,” noted Suda. He also thanked the McCook Public Power District crews for their mutual aid assistance north of Haigler. “Their help was critical in getting residential services restored in a timely fashion.”

Suda cautions everyone to be on the lookout for broken poles and downed power lines in the aftermath of the storm.