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Damage From Blizzard ‘Unprecedented’ in North Dakota

"The damage we have assessed so far is unprecedented. It's the worst damage Montana-Dakota Utilities has had on its system," spokesman Mark Hanson said. "We have hundreds of cross arms broken and miles of poles down."

Blizzard (2)
(TNS) - A weekend blizzard that brought snow, rain, ice and strong winds to western North Dakota downed hundreds and possibly thousands of electrical poles, destruction that might be among the worst ever seen.

"The damage we have assessed so far is unprecedented. It's the worst damage Montana-Dakota Utilities has had on its system," spokesman Mark Hanson said. "We have hundreds of cross arms broken and miles of poles down."

MDU's history dates to 1924.

The utility will have at least 15 crews — up to 60 workers — in northwestern North Dakota this week, possibly more if aerial surveys Monday show even more damage than anticipated.

"We'll get a look at the lines our crews could not view from the ground," Hanson said.

Thousands out

At one point during the two-day blizzard MDU had about 18,000 customers in western North Dakota and eastern Montana without power. By late afternoon Monday that figure had been cut to about 1,300, according to the utility's outage map and does not track all electrical providers, however, and there are several in western North Dakota that are not on the list and whose outages are not included in the state tally. North Dakota Emergency Services spokesman Eric Jensen told The Associated Press that more than 19,000 people were without power Monday "and it could be even more that," noting that tracking the outages is a complicated process.

Rural electric cooperatives provide power to parts of the state hit hardest by the storm, and linemen from elsewhere in North Dakota were traveling to their territories Monday to help restore electricity. Private contractors also were working with co-ops.

"One of the great benefits of our electric cooperative system is during disasters of this magnitude, cooperatives lean on other cooperatives to aid in restoring the power," said Josh Kramer , executive vice president and general manager for the North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives .

Bismarck -based Capital Electric Cooperative , for one, sent linemen west to help with damage in McLean Electric Co-op's territory, Capital Electric spokesperson Wes Engbrecht said.

Bakken blasted

The outages hit much of the Bakken oil patch, causing the phone of North Dakota Pipeline Authority Director Justin Kringstad to ring off the hook Monday as energy companies called in to report on how the storm had impacted their operations.

Kringstad estimated that the state's daily oil output fell by as much as 60% relative to the start of April, due to a loss of electricity across the region and snowy roads making it impossible for trucks to reach energy infrastructure. North Dakota recently had been producing 1.1 million barrels of oil per day, a figure that he believed had already fallen 25% a week and a half earlier when another blizzard hit the state.

North Dakota's oil industry was just starting to recover from that drop when the storm hit this past weekend and sent production plummeting again, Kringstad said. Everything from pump jacks to small pipelines that gather oil and natural gas from well sites to major oil transmission lines and gas processing plants rely on electricity to operate. How long their operations will be curtailed will depend on how quickly power is restored, he said.

Restoration efforts

For some parts of western North Dakota , that could be a matter of days or weeks.

The northwestern communities of Hamlet, Wildrose , Epping , Wheelock and Springbrook were expected to have power restored late Monday or Tuesday, Hanson said. MDU anticipated restoring power to Crosby , Noonan , Kincaid, Northgate and Zahl by Thursday and to Corinth and McGregor by the end of the week.

Other communities such as Alamo , Ambrose , Hanks and Appam were expected to be without electricity until next week, given extensive damage to MDU's infrastructure in the area, Hanson said.

Williston State College , which closed on Monday, announced that with power being restored, it would resume classes on Tuesday.

Burke-Divide Electric Cooperative serves the far northwestern corner of the state. The co-op tallied more than 650 broken power poles and hundreds of broken cross arms, which are pieces of equipment attached to poles that hold up power lines. Members without electricity could be in the dark for several days, the co-op posted to its Facebook page Monday.

Sheridan Electric Cooperative straddles the Montana - North Dakota border, serving both states. The co-op estimated it had 500 broken poles.

Verendrye Electric Cooperative , which serves about 12,000 customers in north central North Dakota , had about 250 power poles down and about 350 meters out, according to spokesman Tom Rafferty . Some customers, such as farms, have more than one meter, he said. At the peak of the storm, the co-op had about 1,500 meters out.

"We're going to work all day," he said early Monday. "Conditions are a lot better — it's sunny at least and not as windy. We're hoping to get some work done today, but there are still issues with roads. It's kind of hard to say what will happen, but we're still expecting people to be out for several days."

Basin Electric Power Cooperative and the Western Area Power Administration operate large transmission lines that carry electricity to the region. Basin Electric spokesman Andy Buntrock on Monday said that the co-op was working to repair damage to its transmission system, which he said was nearly fully operational and was expected to be back to normal by Wednesday.

One of WAPA's high-voltage lines that runs from the Montana - North Dakota border to Williston sustained damage, and another was already out for scheduled maintenance, spokesperson Lisa Meiman said. Several other lines operated by WAPA on behalf of local utilities were damaged as well, she said. Meiman attributed most of the outages to icing issues.

Flooding concerns

The blizzard dropped as much as 1 1/2 feet of snow on western North Dakota , and also brought widespread freezing rain that coated trees and power lines, and winds gusting around 50 mph. Snowfall totals from the National Weather Service included 2 inches in Minot — which had received 4 feet of snow from two earlier snowstorms this month — 7 inches in Regent , 12.5 in Watford City , 13 in Dickinson , 16 in Grassy Butte and 18 in Niobe.

Bismarck - Mandan did not get any snow, but it did get about an inch of rain.

The precipitation from the three storms the past two weeks could lead to ponding of water due to ditches and other natural drains being filled with snow, according to the weather service. There's also a small chance of overland flooding and minor stream flooding, but dry, thawed soils should soak up a lot of the moisture.

Much of the area is still in some form of drought, even after the earlier storms, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, a partnership of the National Drought Mitigation Center , the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture . The next drought map update is Thursday.

Another weather system late this week could bring another inch or two of rain to North Dakota , though it might not worsen flooding concerns in the west and central regions.

"It's kind of just dependent on the week; if we're able to dry out, the ground might absorb the moisture," weather service Meteorologist Matthew Johnson said. "If not, it could turn into runoff. At the moment, our hydrologist is not too concerned."

Flooding was occurring Monday in eastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota , which saw heavy rain over the weekend. Some highways were closed. Moderate river flooding is expected in many locations this week, according to the weather service. Some county roads in the region are water-covered or washed out.

Volunteers and National Guard members in northwestern Minnesota spent two days sandbagging to fortify Crookston from an expected record flood along the Red Lake River , AP reported. Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz authorized 100 Guard soldiers to assist with the flood fight after heavy rains forced the tributary of the Red River to spill its banks.

Officials in Grand Forks and neighboring East Grand Forks, Minnesota , have started to activate some of their permanent flood protection measures put into place after the devastating 1997 Red River flood, according to AP. Forecasters expect a crest of 48 feet later this week on the Red in Grand Forks . Flood stage is 18 feet. The city has protection to 57 feet. Officials on Monday planned to close one of the bridges that connects the two cities. Built-in floodwalls were being activated on both sides of the river, officials from the two cities said.

People in Valley City have been sandbagging to protect against the rising Sheyenne River . Fargo officials donated 29,000 sandbags to help, according to AP.

Valley City Mayor Dave Carlsrud said the community pride was evident in the number of people, including students from Valley City State University , who volunteered.

"People are just, that's why I like living in North Dakota . Last week, when it was blowing snow in my face, I wasn't too sure. But today, I am again," Carlsrud said.


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