Wrangell and several other Southeast Alaska communities experienced widespread power outages Tuesday after a sudden windstorm snapped transmission lines poles and downed trees in Wrangell, plunging thousands into darkness.
The first outages happened on Wrangell Island around 12:30 Tuesday.
Wrangell’s capital facilities director Amber Al-Haddad told KSTK in a phone call Tuesday afternoon that the storm caused a problem with the Southeast Alaska Power Agency hydroelectric transmission line entering Wrangell from the strait at 5-mile, Zimovia Highway. The line also moves electricity to Petersburg, about 50 miles north of Wrangell.
The storm also snapped the tops off of three of SEAPA’s power poles near Wrangell’s City Park, causing power outages in Petersburg as well.
As of Tuesday evening Wrangell was still running on a standby diesel generator, and around 100 Wrangell electric utility customers out the highway were expected to be without power for much of the night, and possibly into Wednesday.
Power was restored to portions of Wrangell town beginning around 2:00 p.m., and continuing through the afternoon.
Downed trees also damaged power lines near Wrangell’s ferry terminal, shutting off electricity to the airport for nearly four hours. Power was restored to the airport in the afternoon, but high winds caused an Alaska Airlines jet on the milk run from Petersburg to skip its scheduled landing in Wrangell.
The main, Wood Street access to Wrangell’s hospital was also cut off by fallen trees, necessitating hospital access by the back, gravel road. The Wood Street fallen trees also took out power for the eastern side of Zimovia Highway from Case Avenue to the old Armory Building on Bennett Street.
The National Weather Service in Juneau said that rapidly warming temperatures (from below freezing to 45 degrees in less than 24 hours), melting snow, and heavy rains — 0.17 inches in less than an hour — saturated the ground, making trees and power lines less stable.
The forecasters reported wind speeds greater than 35 mph at the Wrangell Airport. Wrangell harbor residents reported top wind speeds of 47 mph to KSTK Tuesday afternoon.
11/30 5:01 p.m.: This article has been updated to reflect that Petersburg is back on SEAPA power and powering down its diesel generators.
12/1 8:42 a.m.: This article has been updated to clarify that high winds caused the plane to not land in Wrangell on Tuesday, not a lack of power.
Get in touch with KSTK at email@example.com or (907) 874-2345.