Photo: crews repairing a wood pole tower

WAPA, partners battle Nebraska blizzard, restore power to thousands within hours

On Sunday, April 7, residents of several Western Nebraska communities were faced with a blistering cold front which evolved into severe winds and blizzard conditions, resulting in the loss of power for more than 12,000 customers and damage to transmission lines and towers. 

Immediately, Scotts Bluff County emergency management, surrounding municipalities and utility providers worked to coordinate a response. In partnership with the Western Area Power Administration, crews were dispatched to do inspections of each line, while braving the elements many others had sheltered from. That response also resulted in over a dozen linemen and technicians with WAPA’s Rocky Mountain region joining with local crews to swiftly return power to the area. 

Reacting to the response, Jonathan Olsen, RM’s Wyoming and Nebraska Division Maintenance Manager, said WAPA crews were already on the scene by the time he was informed of the outage. 

“Our line foreman based in the Gering area was already working to evaluate the situation at 8 p.m. Saturday night,” Olsen said. “He had already been called out because some lines had tripped. From then on, crews worked nonstop until we had power restored.” 

A damage assessment was performed along lines stretching from Gering east into neighboring McDrew and Bridgeport along Route 92. Along the stretch of road, crews came across downed lines and more than a dozen damaged or destroyed H-frame transmission structures. WAPA crews worked in conjunction with other partners, including the City of Gering’s utility department and the Nebraska, Chimney Rock and Roosevelt Public Power Districts. Together, crews quickly finalized damage assessments while also rerouting power through other lines to get the lights back on. 

Damage was also sustained to power poles located along the I-80 corridor between Kimball and Sidney. Olsen said power customers in that area were not affected. 

“For us, it wasn’t just about interfacing with our crews, but the customers as well,” Olsen said. “By making sure our crews had what they needed, it allowed us to interact with our customers as safely as we could.” 

One of those customers, the City of Gering, took the brunt of the storm, resulting in 8,000 residents losing power in the early morning hours on Sunday. Doug Parker, Gering’s electric superintendent, said having the power restored the same day was very appreciated. 

“The response was really good,” Parker said. “When I first got a call and spoke to a WAPA dispatcher, the first question for us was ‘how long will it take?’ WAPA’s initial assessment was one to two days. To have the power back up in about 12 hours was nothing short of extraordinary.” 

Olsen said he was proud of his crew’s swift response to the crisis. 

“It was simply amazing. The guys worked incredibly hard in pretty rough conditions, and we got power back quickly. With what they were faced with, I can’t praise them enough.” 

Line crews and technicians perform a visual inspection while stabilizing a 115-kV line
Line crews and technicians from the Western Area Power Administration’s Rocky Mountain region perform a visual inspection while stabilizing a 115-kV line east of Gering, Neb., April 7, 2024. Crews responded to damaged and destroyed structures and transmission lines after a severe blizzard struck Western Nebraska April 6-7. WAPA teams worked with local customers and emergency response crews to reroute power to nearly 12,000 while performing damage assessments. (WAPA photo/Jonathan Olsen)
Line crews and technicians from the Western Area Power Administration’s Rocky Mountain region respond to a downed power pole structure east of Gering, Neb., April 7, 2024. Crews worked to address damaged and destroyed structures and transmission lines
Line crews and technicians from the Western Area Power Administration’s Rocky Mountain region respond to a downed power pole structure east of Gering, Neb., April 7, 2024. Crews worked to address damaged and destroyed structures and transmission lines after a severe blizzard struck Western Nebraska April 6-7. WAPA teams worked with local customers and emergency response crews to reroute power to nearly 12,000 while performing damage assessments. (WAPA photo/Jonathan Olsen)
Line crews and technicians from the Western Area Power Administration’s Rocky Mountain region perform a visual inspection while stabilizing a 115-kV line east of Gering, Neb., April 7, 2024. Crews responded to damaged and destroyed structures and transmission lines after a severe blizzard struck Western Nebraska April 6-7. WAPA teams worked with local customers and emergency response crews to reroute power to nearly 12,000 while performing damage assessments. (WAPA photo/Jonathan Olsen)
Line crews and technicians from the Western Area Power Administration’s Rocky Mountain region perform a visual inspection while stabilizing a 115-kV line east of Gering, Neb., April 7, 2024. Crews responded to damaged and destroyed structures and transmission lines after a severe blizzard struck Western Nebraska April 6-7. WAPA teams worked with local customers and emergency response crews to reroute power to nearly 12,000 while performing damage assessments. (WAPA photo/Jonathan Olsen)
An “H” wood structure lays on its side after being snapped in half near Gering, Neb., April 7, 2024. Line crews and technicians from the Western Area Power Administration’s Rocky Mountain region responded to damaged and destroyed structures and transmission lines after a severe blizzard struck Western Nebraska April 6-7. WAPA teams worked with local customers and emergency response crews to reroute power to nearly 12,000 while performing damage assessments. (WAPA photo/Jonathan Olsen)
An “H” wood structure lays on its side after being snapped in half near Gering, Neb., April 7, 2024. Line crews and technicians from the Western Area Power Administration’s Rocky Mountain region responded to damaged and destroyed structures and transmission lines after a severe blizzard struck Western Nebraska April 6-7. WAPA teams worked with local customers and emergency response crews to reroute power to nearly 12,000 while performing damage assessments. (WAPA photo/Jonathan Olsen)
Photo: crews repairing a wood pole tower
Line crews and technicians from the Western Area Power Administration’s Rocky Mountain region perform a visual inspection on a 115-kV line east of Gering, Neb., April 7, 2024. Crews responded to damaged and destroyed structures and transmission lines after a severe blizzard struck Western Nebraska April 6-7. WAPA teams worked with local customers and emergency response crews to reroute power to nearly 12,000 while performing damage assessments. (WAPA photo/Jonathan Olsen)

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