BHE, Butte Electric crews keep busy with storm

 A Black Hills Energy crew repairs a downed powerline Wednesday, in Sturgis. Pioneer photo by Deb Holland

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LEAD — Crews were busy this week as heavy snow and downed trees caused several small power outages.

Mutch Usera, marketing and communications director with Black Hills Energy, said Wednesday afternoon that starting Tuesday, the company had a total of 750 customers who experienced power outages related to the storm. Most of those customers were in the Northern Hills, around Lead, Deadwood, Spearfish and Sturgis.

By Wednesday afternoon that number had dropped to 282 customers, mostly around the Pactola area.

Those outages compare to Black Hills Energy’s total customer base of 71,000 customers.

Usera said the power restoration period varied, depending on the reason for the outage, but most customers were not without power for extended periods of time.

One of the biggest contributors to the power outages was heavy snow on trees that had not yet shed their leaves with the fall season, he said.

“One of the most common things is there are still leaves on the Fall trees,” he said. “A lot of the trees in the neighborhood get a little weight and that could cause some havoc on the service lines that go into your home. When the snow melts off, the leaves on the trees bounce back up and they’re not leaning on anything.”

Butte Electric Cooperative, which provides service for many rural customers in the Northern Hills area, said one of the challenges their linemen faced was gaining access to outages. By Wednesday afternoon, Lane Mitchell, director of marketing and communications said the company had about 172 members without power. Of those, 51 were in Butte County, 71 in Lawrence County, and 50 were in Meade County. The company has a total of 5,242 members.

“With the heavy wet snow our guys are having trouble getting on some of the rural roads,” she said. “We’ve had some trucks get stuck and we’re working on those obstacles as they go along.”

Mitchell said unlike the Atlas storm of 2013, this week’s snow seemed to be contained to the foothills area. In Newell, she said customers reported rain and some snowflakes that were not sticking. But in Spearfish, Sturgis and Boulder Canyon drifts were up to 2 feet high in some places.

Downed trees and branches were a major problem Tuesday afternoon and into Wednesday, as large amounts of heavy, wet snow fell quickly, causing a variety of safety hazards. Tree services throughout the Northern Hills experienced a multitude of calls that went into the night, and carried over throughout the day on Wednesday. Ashley Fulton, consulting arborist with Tree Wise Men tree service in Lead, compared the situation to the Atlas snowstorm of 2013.

“It seems like we’re having the Storm Atlas all over again,” she said. “We’re experiencing the same thing.”

Though Fulton said her crews were staying busy, most of the calls were coming from the Spearfish and Sturgis area, where there were several reports of tree branches falling on structures and blocking driveways. The crews also made sure to trim hazardous branches, or “widow makers,” that had broken but remained in the tree boughs.

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