Lights are back on in Jackson County
JACKSON -- The power was back on in all of Jackson County Thursday morning, nearly a week after an ice storm blanketed the land and left anywhere from 1 to 3 inches of ice on power lines in the southwest corner of the county.
Rick Burud, Federated Rural Electric's general manager, said crews are now working to replace wooden poles that snapped under the weight of sagging power lines. He estimated that between 50 and 60 poles will need to be replaced, but added that at this point it's hard to say just how many were damaged.
Power outages were first reported on the evening of Dec. 29 in Jackson County, after freezing rain began to fall earlier in the day.
"We got a little bit of ice on the east side of Nobles County, but not anywhere near what we had in Jackson County," said Burud, who serves as manager of both counties' federated electric utility offices. Crews went out yet that night to restore power, many working straight through to 2 a.m. Saturday morning -- some 25 hours.
"Mother Nature wasn't going to cooperate," Burud said.
By Saturday, ice had begun to fall off some of the power lines, which then created shorts that either burned the wire off or knocked out power. Line men from both Nobles and Jackson counties kept up with the outages by working longer hours, but then freezing rain and frost returned to the area Sunday and continued through Monday.
Outages continued off and on throughout the weekend, but when fog settled in Monday night and early Tuesday morning, frost built up on the already sagging lines. As a result, all of Jackson County -- with the exception of Heron Lake -- had lost power by 7 a.m. Tuesday.
"We have an alternate feed that comes from Heron Lake and we tried to transfer all of the load to Heron Lake, but low and behold, that line was down too," Burud said.
Both the Jackson and Round Lake schools had to cancel class on Tuesday because of the power outages, and power was finally restored to the city of Jackson by 11 a.m.
A downed transmission line south of Clear Lake, located in about the center of the county, was to blame for the lack of power. Accessing the lines also proved difficult, said Burud, adding that they are located on a private right-of-way.
"We had to walk or ride snowmobile or four-wheeler to get to the lines," he said, adding that trucks were not allowed to drive across the property. "The line was down in the middle of the field."
Transmission service was restored to Jackson and all of the sub-stations by 1:10 p.m. Tuesday, said Burud, but then the work began on all of the distribution lines, which feed power into individual farm sites.
"We had about 1,000 customers without power when we got the transmission lines up," he said. Crews worked on the distribution lines until nearly 2:30 a.m. Wednesday, only to return to work by 6 a.m. to learn there were still about 200 customers without power.
Throughout the day Wednesday, about 500 customers had lost power at some point. Burud said power was fully restored by 7:30 p.m., with about 25 customers losing power later that night.
"From Windom to Jackson to Spirit Lake is where we're still carrying a lot of ice," Burud said. As for customers of the electric cooperative, the longest anyone was without power was between 16 and 18 hours.
Though Burud believes they've weathered the storm for now, a fog had settled in again Thursday afternoon.
As weather forecasts predict highs in the 40s by Saturday, Burud said it creates both good news and concern for the electric utility.
"When it gets warm that fast the ice will come off, which is really good," he said. But as the ice melts -- and it will melt from the top line faster because it gets the most sunlight -- Burud said they're expecting a number of power outages again on Saturday.
Burud said people should exercise caution and stay clear of power lines hanging low to the ground. Also, anyone experiencing a power outage should call the electric cooperative to report it.