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Spring storm packs a punch

Posted 5/04/11 (Wed)

By Tina Foreman
Farmer Staff Writer
Spring blizzards are nothing new for North Dakota, but this past weekend’s late April storm was something even for North Dakota.
It started with rain on Friday, and during the early morning hours of Saturday, April 30, the snow hit McKenzie County and it was really packing a punch.
“Watford City received 11 inches of heavy, wet snow, and on top of that we received 56 mph winds and gusts that were even harder,” says Jerry Samuelson, McKenzie County Disaster Emergency manager. “On Saturday morning most of the county had no land line phones, no cell phones, no power and no radio. So even though we had shelters available, it was difficult to get the information to anyone.”
At one time or another during the weekend, almost all of McKenzie County was without power.
“We had all but just a couple of our customers out of power at some point,” says Steve Lautenschlager, McKenzie Electric Cooperative Operation supervisor. “As of Monday morning we were down to 500 customers without power, and we are hopeful that most of them will be back on by the end of the day. For others, it may be another day or two, and since they have been out since Friday, we are working as fast as we can to get them back up.”
The heavy snow and high winds caused many power poles to break in two, while others simply tipped over because the ground became too saturated with moisture to hold them up any longer.
The weekend storm not only disrupted power to rural homes, but to Montana-Dakota Utilities (MDU) customers as well.
“The storm knocked power out to our customers in most of McKenzie County, and because the local MDU representative was on vacation, we didn’t have a crew in the area,” says Mark Lewis, Montana-Dakota Utilities district manager. “The biggest delay in getting MDU customers back on line was waiting for roads to open up so we could get a crew from Glendive to the area.”
According to Lewis, all of the MDU customers in McKenzie County should have power. If they don’t then it is likely an individual issue rather than a widespread one.
The storm also kept area law enforcement busy, especially with the added issues of long-term power outages.
“It was a very busy weekend for the Sheriff’s Dept,” says Ron Rankin, McKenzie County sheriff.
“We had our hands full, and I hope it’s the last one we see for a long time.”
According to Rankin, there were two weather-related accidents, over a dozen reported vehicles in the ditch, numerous reports of power outages and lines being down and several reports of vehicles being stranded in various locations.
“The dispatchers were swamped with 911 calls,” adds Rankin. “The weather was so bad the snow plows and wreckers couldn’t move. So many people had to sit out the storm in their vehicles.”
The storm also caused an oil well pit fire south of Watford City. According to Samuelson, Newfield Exploration Company had a well south of town that they couldn’t get to, and when the tank battery overflowed into the pit, a fire erupted.
“The road to the fire was blocked, so county road and bridge crews were out there clearing a path for the fire department, and because everyone did a good job and worked together, the fire was able to be put out,” adds Samuelson. “I think a big thank you needs to go out to all of the area’s law enforcement and road crews for going out and doing their jobs when everyone else was staying home.”
The storm’s 11 inches of snow is almost gone, but the distraction and memories of this late spring storm are likely to stay behind a little longer.