Line break turns out the lights

by nathan oster

There is no such thing as a good time for a power outage, but the one that sent local residents scurry for back-up heat sources during the early morning hours on Friday came at one of the worst possible times of the year.

The Big Horn Basin, and for that matter all of Wyoming, has been in a deep freeze over the last 7 to 10 days, with the mercury rarely if ever climbing above zero during this frigid stretch of early December.

So when the power went out Friday morning at 3:42 a.m., it caused widespread panic.

The temperate at the time, as measured at the South Big Horn County Airport and recording on the website of the National Weather Service, was -15.  If you factor in a 3-mile per hour wind, it was even colder.

When word was received from Rocky Mountain Power that the power would likely be off until around 8:30 or 9 a.m., town and school officials took action.

The school district pushed the scheduled start of the school day back by two hours to 10 a.m.

Over at Town Hall, Police Chief Bill Brenner said officers spent all of the time patrolling, looking for people who were outside and looking for help, while Paul Thur, the town’s administrator, and town foreman Dalen Davis, fired up the generator at the Herb Asp Community Center, thinking it would be a warm place for people to go.

No one took advantage of it by actually going to the community hall, but Thur said it was a good drill, and one that was especially valuable because it tipped off the folks at the South Big Horn Senior Center that their generator was not working properly. Brenner said it was a quite couple of hours, with no disturbances reported, until the power was restored at 7:11 a.m.

Jeff Hymas, a spokesman for Rocky Mountain Power, said the outage affected close to 1,360 Rocky Mountain Power customers in Greybull and was caused by a downed power line just outside one of the company’s substations, known as the Nahne Jensen substation, near Greybull.

Hymas said the cold weather “was a contributing cause to that downed power line,” as the wind and cold apparently caused the line to break.  Rocky Mountain repair crews were able to get the line repaired, working through the subzero temperatures.

When the power came back on shortly after 7 a.m., the temperature at the airport was still hovering around -15, according to the NWS website.

Thur said he would be meeting with the town’s emergency management coordinator, Ernie Smith, in the coming days to discuss the emergency management plan and in particular, what it says about power outages and where people should look for relief.

Hymas went a step further, encouraging people to prepare for the worst.

“There’s always the potential for power outages, whether it’s because of bad weather, vehicle accidents or other causes, so it’s good to be prepared,” he said. “There’s a lot of good information on our website ( for preparing in advance and staying safe during an outage.

“I’d encourage everyone to review that information, put together an outage kit and have supplies on hand that would make an outage less inconvenient.”