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Freezing rain and frost cause power outages

After enjoying near record highs the first 10 days of December, the weather jumped right into winter and caused numerous issues for area power companies.

12/23/15 (Wed)


Saggy, droopy lines... Sagging close to the ground, this transmission line shows extreme stress Wednesday from frost buildup over several days. Even through the electrical wires are designed to handle a certain amount of stress from frost and ice, Wednesday's load was nearly too much.

By Marvin Baker

After enjoying near record highs the first 10 days of December, the weather jumped right into winter and caused numerous issues for area power companies.

Looking like southwest Missouri in December instead of northwest North Dakota, power poles were snapped and lines down from the heavy build up of frost.

Montana Dakota Utilities, Verendrye, Burke-Divide and Mountrail-Williams, all reported power outages at some point in time the second half of last week.

It appeared that Verendrye had the worst fate as numerous customers from McClusky to Donnybrook were left without electricity.

“Yes, it’s the frost on the lines. It’s very thick,” said Verendrye spokesman Tom Rafferty. “Yesterday morning (Tuesday) we had 1,500 without power and we reduced that number to 56 by the evening. However, the number is now growing again as the frost gets thicker.”

Rafferty said Wednesday afternoon 13 power poles were broken from the extra weight and 463 customers remained without power, but that number climbed to nearly 50 power poles down by late Wednesday night.

The outage included the new Cenex C-Store in Carpio, a Verendrye customer that was without power Tuesday and Wednesday.

“We had power a couple of hours, now it’s out again,” manager Ryan Davy said Wednesday afternoon. “We’ve got partial power in the store, but it’s not enough to run the gas pumps. We’ve had to turn a lot of people away, so all those gallons are gone. I’ve sent a lot of people to Berthold, and those going north, I’ve sent to Kenmare.”

Davy said the Berthold Cenex had the same fate. The community is served by MDU, but the Cenex complex is served by Verendrye.

But as of 2 p.m., on Wednesday, Davy said Berthold was back to full power, however Carpio Cenex didn’t get its full power back until about 7 p.m.

Meanwhile, the community of Carpio, which is served by MDU didn’t lose power for more than a few seconds, but residents reported several 3-10-second outages.

Eric Seig, Kenmare, described a similar situation with Burke-Divide Electric Cooperative. He said crews were winning the battle one minute and losing it the next.

Seig, an operations supervisor with Burke-Divide, described crews working to get power restored, only to have lines in other areas go down from the stress and additional weight on the lines.

“Power’s on and power’s off again,” he said. “We’re going to fight this until the frost comes out.”

Seig said windy conditions Wednesday afternoon only complicated the situation. He said the wind will sometimes cause the lines to jump up and down, or slap against each other because of the extra weight, which in turn, puts undo stress on the wooden poles.

By 2 p.m., Wednesday afternoon, he said power was restored to all the businesses served by Burke-Divide and by 3 p.m., about 100 rural residential customers remained without electricity.

Seig said the Burke-Divide problems were taking place from Columbus south along N.D. Highway 40, then eastward.

“These lines are designed for a frost load,” he said. “And when they’re built, a grade of material is used with an ice-load factor built in. Once you factor wind though, that’s where it starts causing issues. When one (pole) breaks, it causes a domino effect. That’s why you’ll normally see two-three or four poles in a row breaking.”

Heidi Robbins, Kenmare, member services manager at Burke-Divide, said Wednesday crews had already been out two nights responding to the outages.

Seig believed Wednesday night would be the same, but suggested a silver lining.

“We’re not dealing with the issues our cooperative brethren are dealing with,” he said. “At least we can concentrate all our crews within one-half of the system.”

Mark Hanson, public affairs spokesman for MDU, confirmed some outages occurred on a line between Kenmare and Berthold.

“The majority were taking place on a 115 kilovolt line,” Hanson said. “They were based on ice being on the line.” Read EVERY WORD on EVERY PAGE of The Kenmare News by subscribing--online or in print!