Prolonged sub-zero temperatures cause power outage and burst water main


WHEATLAND — Power was knocked out city-wide last weekend when arctic temperatures seized the state. Electric department head Preston Meier, who has been with the Town of Wheatland for seven years, explained that an insulator broke on a transmission line. 

“When this went down, the power was out city-wide. It is common when it is this cold, even with preventative maintenance,” he said. “When this happens, we have to switch that part of the line and feed off the other two sub-stations. One sub-station was completely off.” 

Most customers had power restored within an hour, according to Meier, but neighborhoods west of the interstate had outages lasting more than two hours in some cases.

“We always want to quickly restore power when we get a dispatch call that a breaker is out,” Meier added, “We have alerts through a computer. We get the fault data and can usually then tell what went wrong.” Once the problem gets identified, the crew will run out to look at the affected areas. “Sometimes an insulator breaks due to damage done by a falling tree, for example,” he explained. “But our first priority is to get electricity back online. We were able to turn two of the sub-stations on very quickly. Often the delay in restoring power is figuring out the problem. There are a lot of steps, and our best option was to get about two-thirds of the town back up pretty quick - less than an hour - by using the two sub-stations. The remaining one-third of the town took a bit longer.” 

The outage occurred in the late evening and early morning hours between Saturday and Sunday according to Meier. The electric crew was monitoring the situation and working to get the broken insulator repaired.

With temperatures dangerously low, power is a priority. In warmer months, the concern with a power outage is usually spoiled food. However, in winter the problems are different, as physical warmth is a safety concern, but there are also concerns around freezing water and sewer lines.

“When power is out and it is this cold, the best we can do for physical comfort and safety is to layer up, keep doors closed, and use blankets. It’s important to keep water dripping,” Meier explained. “The dripping water can eliminate a frozen pipe, and water will run without power. Our advice is to stay as warm as you can with what you have and just be confident that our team is working as fast as we can. Everything gets harder when it is this cold.”

Meier also explained that the town was experiencing freezing water lines prior to the power outage. 

On January 15 a break in a city water line occurred near an electrical box. Downtown streetlights as well as decorative lighting were turned off as a safety precaution. The water break could be observed at the intersection of 8th and Gilchrist Streets early Tuesday morning where water was surging through a gap in the asphalt. The city posted barricades around the affected area. According to a public notice posted by the city to social media outlets, a vac truck was necessary to repair the line, but could not be operated until the temperatures rose above freezing. It was noted that no residential or business water lines were affected by the burst line.

As temperatures slowly began to rise by midweek, a sand and gravel mix patch had been applied and staunched the flow from the street. Just in time, too, as the snow started flying, the sky lowered, and temperatures dipped well below freezing yet again.