Power companies react to winter storm outages, say multi-day outages possible
December 16, 2022
Multi-day power outages are possible along the Interstate 35 corridor, including Cloquet, said Minnesota Power as it reported crews responding as quickly as possible to restore power after the second and most powerful wave of this week’s winter storm.
A foot or more of additional heavy, wet snow and high winds brought down numerous trees and limbs on power lines across the companies’ service areas, causing outages affecting about 14,800 Minnesota Power customers as of 10:30 a.m. Thursday.
The Duluth-based Minnesota Power has reports of at least 100 wires down across its service territory, a news release said.
“The challenge with this winter storm response is moving people to the areas where they’re needed to make repairs,” said Dan Gunderson, vice president of Transmission and Distribution. “Our trucks are having a tough time getting around and many roads are impassable due to trees down. We know what we need to fix, but the same deep snow that might have people stuck at home is slowing our crews. We appreciate customers’ patience and understand the inconvenience and disruption of a multi-day outage.”
Lake Country Power, which also serves parts of northeastern Minnesota, reported line crews continuing work to repair broken lines, chainsaw trees from lines and trudge their way through deep snow to restore power for co-op members, a news release said. Progress has been slow and, in some areas, hard to make any headway. Many roads still have not been plowed and most of the repairs need to be done manually to restore service by hand.
“This is almost worse than a summer storm,” said spokesperson Tami Zaun. “Trucks are getting stuck especially on roads that have not been plowed yet, or barely plowed.”
Due to the severity of the winter storm’s impact on Lake Country Power’s distribution system, the cooperative has requested assistance from statewide co-ops and other utilities. However, assistance is unavailable at this time, so Lake Country Power line crews and Lake States Construction are doing the work alone, which will take some time.
“They could be cutting a tree off the line while hearing another tree snapping down the line,” Zaun said. “I saw it firsthand and it’s really bad out there.”
As of 4:00 p.m. Thursday, more than 11,700 members are without power and crews have nearly 500 outage points to repair.
Lake Country crews began working again Friday morning after a mandatory eight-hour rest. Standby and emergency crews will remain working through the night.
Members may call Lake Country Power at 800-421-9959 to report outages.
Minnesota Power said all available crews are in the field working to restore power, but deep snow is hampering travel to the affected areas and slowing the overall response. Crews are using snowmobiles and other tracked vehicles to patrol power lines where roads are not yet plowed.
The largest outages Thursday morning were centered along the I-35 corridor from Cloquet to Hinckley and in the Nisswa-Pine River area north of Brainerd. Crews from areas to the north, where there were fewer outages, are in the Cloquet-Sandstone assisting the response. Additional resources from Xcel Energy and a contractor also are assisting Minnesota Power.
Because of the difficult travel conditions, Minnesota Power expects some areas will experience multi-day outages, the electricity provider said. Customers still without power this afternoon/evening should consider securing alternative lodging for at least one night.
The number of outages could fluctuate as the snow weighs down trees, and additional power outages are possible. Minnesota Powers restore power by first repairing major lines that feed the largest number of customers, with a priority for health and safety-related customers such as hospitals, water plants and police and fire facilities. The last repairs typically are individual service lines to homes and businesses.
“The safety of our crews and customers is our top priority during this outage response,” Minnesota Power said. “Crews are reporting many low-hanging wires because of the heavy snow. Do not attempt to touch or lift any wire. Do not attempt to remove tree branches from wires. Do not get out of your vehicle on or near wires.”
All power lines, including downed power lines on the ground, should be considered energized and capable of causing injury or death.
Minnesota Power asked that customers give crews the space they need to work safely along roads and streets, and slow down when driving near them.
“Our customers’ patience is appreciated as we recognize the inconvenience caused by the outages,” it said.