By Ann McCreary and Marcy Stamper
Utility crews are working throughout the county today (Nov. 26) to restore electricity after heavy wet snow dropped trees and branches on power lines and caused widespread power outages.
About 1,000 Okanogan County Electric Cooperative (OCEC) customers were still without power Wednesday morning, said David Gottula, OCEC general manager.
“We have a lot of scattered outages caused by wet snow on trees, and snow on lines that cause them to touch and short out,” Gottula said.
Power to most OCEC customers will “hopefully be back on in time for football” on Thanksgiving Day, Gottula said. “I would be surprised if everyone is back on today [Wednesday]. There will probably be some remaining outages tomorrow.”
The Okanogan County Public Utility District (PUD) had no estimate of the number of customers affected, because outages are countywide, according to PUD General Manager John Grubich.
He could not predict how long power would be out because so many lines have outages. “It’s a real tedious process, where crews have to patrol 20 miles of line” to identify problems that affect 10-15 customers each, Grubich said.
All the PUD outages are on distribution lines – the lower-voltage lines that bring power to residences and businesses – with no problems on the transmission lines, which could affect hundreds of customers at once.
Each individual outage affects only a handful of people, because in most cases a fuse has blown or a reclosure (similar to a circuit breaker) has been tripped and needs to be reset. These devices will cut off power to a few customers to protect the rest of the electrical system, said Grubich.
Customers throughout the OCEC service area lost power, mostly caused by snow-laden branches or trees falling on lines and breaking them or shorting them out. Outages began around 3:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Crews worked until after midnight Tuesday and resumed work on Wednesday morning, Gottula said.
Utility crews were unable to reach some areas to make repairs Tuesday night because the roads had not been plowed yet, Gottula said.
“And in some places we’d get [power] back on and then another branch would fall,” Gottula said.
Grubich said it took PUD crews six hours on Tuesday night (Nov. 25) to cut a tree that had landed on a power line near Tonasket.
OCEC service areas experiencing scattered outages include Lost River, upper Rendezvous, upper Twisp River, Hoot ’N Holler, upper Beaver Creek, Finley Canyon, Twin Lakes, Wolf Creek, East Chewuch and West Chewuch.
OCEC lost phone service Tuesday night after 8 p.m. and the problem was repaired around 9:30 a.m. Wednesday. Gottula said a component of OCEC’s phone system failed, but it is not clear if the problem was related to the power outage.
OCEC’s Internet service was not interrupted because the utility installed a backup satellite Internet system after the summer wildfire disaster, Gottula said.
The PUD’s entire field crew has been out locating and repairing the wires – 16 linemen, four servicemen, five engineers and numerous support people, said Grubich.
The PUD has no central system for locating all the outages, so customers are advised to call (509) 422-3310 to let them know if they don’t have power. OCEC customers can report outages at 996-2228.
The PUD also reminds people who are using generators that if they don’t have a proper transfer switch they risk losing equipment when the line is re-energized.