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Brainerd lakes area utilities report upward of 20,000 without power due to snowstorm

Some should be prepared for multi-day outage after heavy snow weighs down power lines

Mission Fire Department clears branches Dec. 15, 2022.jpg
A Mission Township fire truck helps clear trees from roads Dec. 15, 2022, after a snowstorm.
Contributed
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The National Weather Service's predictions of wet, heavy snow possibly leading to power outages proved apt in the second round of snow Wednesday night, Dec. 14, through Thursday morning, Dec. 15, affecting from Nisswa to Pine River and elsewhere.

"We really saw the outages pick up this morning between 3-5 a.m.," Josh Goutermont, director of grid operations with Minnesota Power, said Thursday. "That's when the weather really came back in wave two."

Late Wednesday and early Thursday morning, heavy, snow-laden trees toppled over power lines throughout Cass and Crow Wing counties, leading to massive outages. They came during e-learning days for the Pequot Lakes and Pine River-Backus school districts.

I don't remember anything like this. I think we've seen ice storms that have lasted multiple days and things like this, but with wet, heavy snow this early in the winter is pretty unique.
Josh Goutermont

Early Thursday afternoon, Crow Wing Power's outage map reported 9,933 meters without power throughout its entire coverage area. Minnesota Power reported 11,817, mostly along the Highway 371 corridor and the I-35 corridor along the eastern border.

Crow Wing Power shared the following update on its Facebook page at 7:30 a.m. Friday, Dec. 16: "Night crews are in and fresh day crews are on the road early this morning.

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"We’re pleased to say, we’re getting even more mutual aid line workers today from Willmar, Alexandria and Park Rapids. WCCO reported Nisswa as one of the hardest hits in the State and we would certainly attest to that.

"With 380 outages still on the map, we know it still looks bleak for many. Crews were able to restore 160 outages and are working diligently on the rest. All of us worry about our neighbors and want you to stay safe and get power as soon as possible."

"In our Pine River, Park Rapids and Nisswa area, from our perspective that's our hardest hit area," Goutermont, with Minnesota Power, said Thursday. "We are seeing right around 5,500 customers out of power in that area."

"We have called over mutual aid crews," said Char Kinzer, public relations manager with Crow Wing Power. "Other coops are lending their hand. We're getting more and more here to help us. When you get that many crews, maybe a dozen more, that will help."

It's really important that people know we're coming. But don't expect us tonight. This is going to be a multi-day event.
Josh Goutermont

Minnesota Power did the same.

"We have marshaled external resources and brought different partners in, mutual assistance partners," Goutermont said. "We are actively trying to get more resources to come and help us. We know it's wintertime. This is not a convenient time to be without power. We are really trying to make a full court press in that Nisswa area and Pine River and the eastern area of Cloquet to Hinckley."

Trees toppled across a road in Mision Township Dec. 15, 2022.jpg
Mission Township firefighters cleared trees from roads Dec. 15, 2022, after the snowstorm.
Contributed

The Mission Township Fire Department kept busy Thursday clearing trees that fell over roads, helping motorists who spun out and protecting power lines down on the roads, according to a department Facebook post. Firefighters also shoveled a few roofs that were in danger of collapsing.

Some power outages were reported during the first round of the storm Tuesday and Wednesday morning. Crews worked to bring power back to those areas. Many customers are again without power after the second wave.

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"Yesterday we had almost all the outages, specifically in that area, cleaned up," Goutermont said. "This morning we got that second wave and that's when we really started to see the numbers climb again. A lot of the work our crews had done yesterday — hard work, great work — all got undone with that second wave that hit us last night and early this morning."

The goal is to have power restored to those customers by the end of Thursday, before extending to new repairs.

Too early to say whether additional snowfall Thursday morning could result in another day of e-learning.

Restoration has been made difficult by the same transportation issues that plague other motorists. Some areas were not plowed when the outages began. Even now, some of the more rural roads are still being plowed.

Downed trees, once again, are another culprit.

"One of the biggest issues right now is lack of ability to get places," Kinzer said. "Many county roads have not been plowed or plowed well. There are some roads that are impassable. Quite a few are impassable. Trees are so heavy and leaning over them that they can't get through."

4-6 inches is expected by Wednesday morning

Goutermont agreed.

"The counties are having challenges trying to get the roadways cleared with trees down on the roadways," he said. "We're having access issues, getting down right of ways, getting trackes machines, snowmobiles and things like that to get down these right of ways to find where the trouble spots are."

The two companies urge residents to make plans for health and safety. They should not assume their power will be restored at the drop of a hat. Some areas are expected to be without power for as many as one to three days.

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"The biggest thing is for people to stay safe," Kinzer said. "Be prepared for a long outage. I don't know how this storm weighs historically, but I don't remember one like it."

Residents should be prepared, if necessary, to find a place to stay with working electricity and heat until their power is restored.

It's kind of historic. We had that same situation on Mother's Day due to storms and one a couple weeks later. In the early spring we have had major storms that have reached that 10,000 mark and people were out of power for one to three days. I don't see that this is going to be an easy repair.
Char Kinzer

"We're trying to get the message out to anyone that will listen that we expect it to be a multi-day event," Goutermont said. "We want people to make preparations and take precautions if they need to find a place to stay or things like that. We don't want people out in the cold, so we are working with agencies to let them know to start working on warming shelters and things like that as well."

The snowstorm was compared to summer storms that left customers without power in recent springs.

Snow plow mailbox
Swing away posts on mailboxes, even homemade ones, can prevent frustration when massive snowfall has plows out in force like on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022, in Backus.
Travis Grimler / Echo Journal

"It's kind of historic," Kinzer said. "We had that same situation on Mother's Day due to storms and one a couple weeks later. In the early spring we have had major storms that have reached that 10,000 mark and people were out of power for one to three days. I don't see that this is going to be an easy repair."

The area has had major snowstorms before, and the area has had large power outages before, but usually outages of this size have been observed in the spring after snow has already melted.

"I don't remember anything like this," Goutermont said. "I think we've seen ice storms that have lasted multiple days and things like this, but with wet, heavy snow this early in the winter is pretty unique. Around here we all talk about the Halloween storm that was a pretty real even for a lot of us, but we didn't see outages like this. There was a lot of snow. It was dry and we weathered that event very well. And then we have this."

These guys will be working around the clock, just like they always do. We're bringing in food, we're making sandwiches so they can keep working and they'll have breakfast ready in the morning.
Char Kinzer

In spite of this, crews are prepared. They are still doing the same job as usual, just with different scenery and additional tools.

"People will have to be patient," Kinzer said. "These guys will be working around the clock, just like they always do. We're bringing in food, we're making sandwiches so they can keep working and they'll have breakfast ready in the morning."

"It's really important that people know we're coming," Goutermont said. "But don't expect us tonight. This is going to be a multi-day event."

Those without power for an extended period of time are encouraged to contact their county to find resources and advice for help regarding places to go, as well as safety information.

Additional snowfall expected by Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022.png
Contributed / National Weather Service, Duluth

The National Weather Service in Duluth predicts off and on light snow through the weekend, but amounts will generally be light. Frigid arctic air is expected to follow next week with subzero high temperatures possible by late next week.

"The worst of the winter storm is behind us," the weather service said in an email.

Travis Grimler is a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal weekly newspaper in Pequot Lakes/Pine River. He may be reached at 218-855-5853 or travis.grimler@pineandlakes.com.

Travis Grimler began work at the Echo Journal Jan. 2 of 2013 while the publication was still split in two as the Pine River Journal and Lake Country Echo. He is a full time reporter/photographer/videographer for the paper and operates primarily out of the northern stretch of the coverage area (Hackensack to Jenkins).
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