Winter Storm Ursa
Winter Storm Ursa brought a crippling, destructive blizzard that affected an area from the Texas panhandle to Nebraska the last weekend of April. Ursa stranded hundreds of motorists, resulted in numerous road closings, caused downed trees and power lines and left up to eight feet snow drifts in some places. In Scott City, snowfall totals were estimated at 17 inches. If snowfall estimates hold, Ursa will claim the title of the heaviest snowfall on record, anywhere in Kansas so late in the season.
The entire western portion of Wheatland’s service territory was affected by the powerful storm that left more than 1,000 broken or damaged poles and miles and miles of downed and damaged lines. The first outage calls associated with the storm came early Saturday morning, May 29th as the storm let loose its first volley. After a brief spike in outages Saturday afternoon, nearly all storm associated outages had been restored by 9:30 that evening. Unfortunately, Ursa was only just beginning to show her fury. By Sunday morning, conditions had worsened considerably and by Sunday afternoon it was a full blown blizzard. Visibility was zero and in many areas, our linemen were no longer able to patrol lines or identify the causes of outages. At the height of the storm Sunday afternoon, May 30th, Wheatland had more than 13,000 meters out of power.
As the storm began to lift Sunday evening and Wheatland began to try to assess the extent of our damages we quickly discovered a new problem, we couldn’t get to where we needed to go. Over a foot of snow in most places, even larger drifts in some and stranded vehicles made patrolling our lines next to impossible. In addition, damage to transmission lines were further complicating our efforts at restoration.
By Monday morning, we had made arrangements with local county personnel to clear roads to places we needed to get to and with local farmers and other equipment operators to literally pull our trucks from one spot to the next to make line repairs. It was slow and sloppy going but by the end of Monday, less than 30 hours from our peak of more than 13,000 outages, we were down to less than 3,000 meters out of power. By Tuesday evening we were down to approximately 2000 meters with only 400 of those being residential. Crews continued to battle extremely muddy conditions and progress in restoring remaining meters began to slow considerably as crews were now having to repair/replace downed poles and lines to restore just a few meters at a time.
But help had been and was arriving in the form of additional crews from unaffected portions of our eastern service territory and mutual aid crews from Caney Valley Electric and Radiant Electric. Crews continued to work to repair and replace large sections of downed lines and poles to restore power to the more rural residential members.
By the following Tuesday, we were down to 349 meters still out of power with only 35 of those being residential and all of them located in Wichita County. We released our first two mutual aid crews and brought in five new ones, three from Rolling Hills Electric Cooperative, one from Bluestem Electric Cooperative and another from our neighbors to the east, Lane-Scott Electric Cooperative. Our friends at Sunflower Electric also sent us a crew to assist with clearing damaged lines and poles from roadways to help speed up the restoration process.
We focused as many available crews as possible on restoring those final 35 occupied residences, with a total of 14 crews working in the Wichita County area over the next couple of days. By shortly after 6:00 p.m., on Thursday May 11th, we were able to restore power to our final remaining occupied residence.
We would like to say thank you to all our linemen, many of whom worked 15 straight days to restore the outages caused by Winter Storm Ursa. Thank you as well to our many employees, from many different departments, who lent a helping hand. Thank you also to all the Kansas Electric Cooperatives who sent mutual aid crews to assist in our restoration efforts.
As of print of this magazine, our crews were still working to restore power to 65 meters. We thank you, our members, for your understanding during the restoration process. Thank you to the many of you who stopped by to say thank you, dropped off thank you cards, bought our linemen meals or offered an encouraging word. We appreciate your support!