by nathan oster
High winds were to blame for a massive power outage Monday evening that left nearly 3,000 customers in south Big Horn County without electricity.
The outage began around 5 p.m. as a windstorm was whipping through south Big Horn County and it took crews until early Tuesday morning to fully restore power to all customers.
Rocky Mountain Power, which feeds electricity to 1,348 customers in Greybull and the surrounding area, officially reported the outage as lasting from 5:08 p.m. until 6:17 p.m.
Margaret Oler, a spokesperson for the company, said the problems occurred on an electrical system that is connected to the Rocky Mountain Power system.
In this case, the problem areas were on the Big Horn Rural Electric system, which in turn affected customers in and around the communities of Burlington, Emblem and Shell.
According to a statement prepared by Big Horn Rural Electric, crews initially received reports that a substation that feeds the town of Greybull was out of power.
“The wind storm caused breakers to operate in Big Horn’s Nahne Jensen transmission substation on the Greybull River Road. This in turn caused outages at three of Big Horn’s distribution substations (Greybull, Emblem and John Allen),” said the statement. “After coordinating efforts with Big Horn’s power provider, Tri-State Generation and Transmission at the Nahne Jensen substation, it was determined there were distribution line problems.
“Big Horn’s crew members patrolled the lines and noted that there was a broken pole east of the Greybull substation and lines were down in the Emblem and Burlington areas. Some of the line problems were from trees and limbs breaking and coming in contact with energized lines.”
Big Horn Rural Electric indicated that power was restored to the Greybull substation, serving customers in the Greybull and Shell areas, at around 8:30 p .m.
After making repairs in the Emblem area, an attempt was made to restore power to the Emblem-Burlington area at approximately 9:30 p.m. However, the Emblem substation would not re-energize, meaning there were additional line problems.
Crews continued to patrol lines and at approximately 10:30 p.m., the crews found nine transmission poles were broken and laying on the ground between the Nahne Jensen substation and Emblem.
Crews worked through the night to get the poles and lines repaired. Nearly all power was restored to Big Horn Rural Electric’s customers at approximately 1 a.m.
Almost 1,500 Big Horn REA members were without power for at least a portion of the outage. What began at 5 p.m. Monday was finally wrapped up at 6 a.m. Tuesday when the last pole went in the air and the Emblem substation was re-energized.
“This storm popped up out of nowhere,” said Big Horn Rural Electric Line Superintendent Jeff Stocklin. “With great teamwork from all of our employees, both outside crews and office staff answering phones and dispatching crews and the help of a our neighboring co-op, Garland Light & Power, we were able to get our system restored relatively quickly for the amount of problems that were found. We want to thank everyone who was without power for their understanding and patience.”
Rich Miller, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Riverton, said storms with high winds and rain are common during the annual transition from spring to summer.
Temperatures in Greybull were in the 80s and 90s on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. Saturday was more overcast, with the mercury barely slipping above 80.
But high winds have been common. A sustained wind of 38 miles per hour, with gusts up to 45 mph, was measured around 1:15 p.m. Saturday at the Greybull airport. At 9:53 p.m., the airport showed a sustained wind of 30 mph, with gusts up to 45 mph.
Monday’s storm didn’t register as high, with the top sustained wind (28 mph) and gust (40 mph) measured at 4:53 p.m., just moments before the power went out shortly after 5 p.m.
While the power was out, residents gathered fallen tree branches and assessed the damage. Paul Murdoch, Greybull’s fire chief, said his department was never called out and that the worst of the damage appeared to be in the Otto area.