'Historic' summer storm: Jefferson County all clear, all back with power

By Leader Staff
Posted 9/1/15

UPDATE: A map showing power outages in Jefferson County is clear today, Wednesday, Sept. 2.

That means if you are a Jefferson County Public Utility District 1 customer and are still without power …

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'Historic' summer storm: Jefferson County all clear, all back with power

Posted

UPDATE: A map showing power outages in Jefferson County is clear today, Wednesday, Sept. 2.

That means if you are a Jefferson County Public Utility District 1 customer and are still without power after the Aug. 29 windstorm, you should call the PUD at 360-385-5800 and let them know your situation.

A windstorm that swept through the Northwest on Saturday, Aug. 29 caused power outages throughout Oregon and Washington. Jefferson County, now independent of Puget Sound Energy, was no exception to tree branches and trees falling on lines.

As of Tuesday, Sept. 1, there still were a few hundred people without power, but as of Wednesday, the outage map had been cleared.

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Aug. 29 saw the strongest summer windstorm on record in the Northwest and by far the biggest outage Jefferson County Public Utility District 1 has faced since it took control of the power system in East Jefferson County from Puget Sound Energy in 2013.

“It was everywhere. It was pretty amazing. It was a different type of storm, more widespread. This one just seemed to hit everything,” said Jefferson PUD manager Jim Parker on Monday.

A PUD outage map went from large red blotches on Saturday afternoon to medium-sized dots by Tuesday morning. Parker said Tuesday there still were 200 to 300 customers without power, and some isolated outages of one house here and there that are more difficult to find.

Forewarned a storm was coming, the PUD called Michael's, a national private line crew, that sent a crew and a half by Saturday. A crew from another company came on Sunday night to assist with downed lines – which were all the way from Port Townsend down the Coyle.

“Unfortunately, Snohomish PUD and PSE wouldn't release anyone so it was difficult. We were lucky to get who we got,” Parker said of getting the extra help to bring people back on line.

Unlike other storms, Parker said, this wind storm hit after a severe drought had already stressed trees and so those dried-out trees fell, branches fell, leaves flew, cars weaved, and the Hood Canal Bridge was even closed briefly Saturday.

“This silver lining in all this is the weather is still warm,” Parker said.

Jefferson County's Department of Emergency Management was activated at 7:30 a.m., Saturday, Aug. 29 and deactivated at 7:30 p.m. the same day. Deputy director Keppie Keplinger said Tuesday there were no major accidents during the storm.

HISTORIC PERSPECTIVE

The severity of the storm was dubbed “historic” by Northwest meteorologist Cliff Mass on his weather blog.

“Saturday was a historic day during a historic summer,” Mass wrote. “On that day western Oregon and Washington was lashed by the strongest summer windstorm in its historic records.”

The blog shows that almost a half a million people lost power in the Northwest and two people were killed by falling branches. Many roads were closed. Damage, he said, “is certainly in the tens of millions of dollars.”

Parker estimated the response cost to the PUD at about $300,000, which he said was in the PUD's reserve count. He said it's also possible the PUD could get reimbursed for some of that if a disaster is declared and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) gets involved.

LOCAL TAKE

In Port Townsend, Safeway store manager Bob Giesler said Tuesday that he has been at the store for 28 years, and “This was a first.”

The store lost power for 13 hours altogether, he said.

“We never lost our generator. We lost phases of power is what happened,” he said. Though power was out, cash registers were open.

A truck that holds frozen food was summoned from Bellevue to try to save frozen food. “We saved a lot and a lot we didn't,” Giesler said.

Power was back on at 5 p.m., Saturday at the store, but it closed early that night, at 8 p.m., and was closed for four hours.

“It was a long couple of days,” Giesler said. He was planning to meet Tuesday with PUD officials and declined to comment on whether the PUD was responsive.

Many other stores in Port Townsend were out of power and helped customers as best they could, while also wondering why it was taking so long and why they could not get through to the PUD.

Parker acknowledged that officials will meet with Giesler and talk about preparedness.

CONNECTING

Parker said three customer-service representatives, as well as dispatchers from Security Services Northwest Inc., were fielding call but “there's a point with 12,000 people out … even PSE couldn't keep up with calls.”

Parker said the PUD expects to install a new system in November that will be able to use customers' phone numbers.

“The new system will find your number and populate the outage map so if you call in on it it will identify you,” Parker said.

“And it will also allow us to call those we have phone numbers for to provide information” on when power will be restored, Parker said. In other words, just as robo (robot) calls are made to tell people that their power will be shut off for failing to pay a bill, those robo-calls can be made telling people when their power will be restored during an outage, Parker said.

Parker also urged anyone still out of power to call 360-385-5800.

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