Waiting for power, watching for rain

Region’s residents hope for improved spring conditions

SLAYTON — It’s anything but business as usual this week at Carlson Corner in Murray County north of Slayton.

The business, located at the corner of U.S. Highway 59 and the road that leads to Valhalla Island and Keeley Island on the west side of Lake Shetek, lost power last week as a result of a spring storm system that brought snow and ice. As of Monday afternoon, power had not yet been restored.

The prolonged outage also affected many other customers in the Lake Shetek and Lake Sarah areas of northern Murray County. The situation was worse south of Slayton, affecting all of Fulda and thousands of other power customers in smaller communities and rural locations.

As power has slowly been restored, area residents have kept an eye on this week’s weather forecast. Although rain is predicted, the National Weather Service does not expect enough precipitation to cause further flood-related property damage.

“We’re not sure when we’ll have the power back on,” said Carlson Corner owner Jeff Carlson. “It could be today, but I’ve heard it might be as late as Thursday. The power crews are doing everything they can. They deserve a lot of credit for how well they’ve responded to the situation.”

His store usually draws both highway traffic and lake area business for a variety of reasons. It offers fuel, convenience store products, grocery items, bait and tackle, short order breakfasts, lunch specials, picnic supplies, firewood, and hunting and fishing licenses.

“We’re almost completely closed,” Carlson said. “I’ve driven into town to fill my car. It’s the kind of weather situation we never could have expected. We just have to keep going.”

He said perishable food from the walk-in cooler accounts for most of the store’s lost inventory. He consolidated items from his three freezer units into one freezer and has kept the door shut. His back-up generator is providing enough electricity to protect both the frozen food and the bait.

Rural power customers in both Murray County and Nobles County are served mainly by Nobles Electric Cooperative. Co-op Member Services Director Tracey Haberman said about 4,500 customers were without power at the peak of the outage.

The total had been reduced to 1,338 by Monday afternoon. Power went back online for Fulda, Avoca, Reading, and other cities Sunday evening. She said the city of Worthington used a two-hour on and off schedule while power was brought back to full capacity.

“The crews have worked hard and it’s led to a lot of progress,” Haberman said. “We’re expecting that the total number of customers still needing to be served will continue to drop rapidly.”

She said a main reason for delays is the loss of about 400 power poles. They’re needed to run electricity through transmission lines, which must be replaced before customers served by them can be reconnected.

Damage in the past week is expected to be the worst Nobles Cooperative Electric has seen in more than five years. Some power lines in its service area were coated in layers of ice several inches thick.

“We had a similar storm in 2013 that affected a wide area,” Haberman said. “Damage this spring is likely to be about the same and could be worse. It’s been dramatic in some locations.”

Lyon Lincoln Electric Cooperative General Manager Tim O’Leary reported less damage in LLEC’s service area, but said the number of outages was substantial.

About 300 to 350 customers were without power at the peak of the outage situation. By Monday afternoon, all of those customers except one near Amiret had their service restored. About 40 poles, most of them in a 1-mile stretch along Lyon County Road 9 near Amiret, needed to be replaced.

“The power loss is mainly in a square area between Florence, Lynd, Amiret and Tracy,” O’Leary said. “We had some outages in Lincoln County, but not nearly as much as what happened toward the east.”

On Monday, power restoration progress allowed LLEC to send some of its personnel to the Ruthton area to help Nobles Cooperative Electric in the northwest corner of its service area.

O’Leary has served as general manager since 2002. The worst power outage and storm damage he’s seen happened in 2004 around Thanksgiving.

He said this week’s damage is comparable to both a 2011 Fourth of July storm and a Christmas storm several years ago.

Both Haberman and O’Leary said dollar amounts for the infrastructure damage will be calculated and then forwarded to county emergency management directors by Wednesday.

Tracy City Administrator Kris Ambuehl said about 740 households within Tracy, about three-quarters of city residents altogether, had at least intermittent power outages in the past week.

Power crews also needed to make repairs to transmission lines and poles, particularly along the Highline Road on the west edge of Tracy. As of Monday, repairs were nearly complete.

“It was a major power outage affecting most of the city,” Ambuehl said. “We’re hoping that everyone will be reconnected by the end of the day. The only work left is for situations where we needed to replace parts.”

Electrical issues have been the latest concern in a winter and spring that brought record snowfall to Marshall and the surrounding area followed by a faster than normal melting process.

National Weather Service meteorologist Lance VandenBoogaart based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, said Marshall was situated within the highest snow totals for several different weather systems this winter. It pushed the winter snow total to 88.9 inches, the most ever recorded.

He said rain forecast from Wednesday until early Thursday morning is expected to total between a 1/2 inch and 1 inch, based on current weather projections. It would take a total of about 2 to 3 inches over the same time period to push flood levels past where they’ve been in the past several weeks.

“We could definitely see rising water levels, but are not expecting it to cause widespread flood damage,” VandenBoogaart said.

“A flood warning is issued whenever a river or creek goes beyond its flood stage. We’ll see in the next day or so if the predicted rain amounts increase.”