Premium content

High winds cause power outages, delays


More than 7,300 La Plata Electric Association (LPEA) members lost power early Monday morning, May 6, following high winds.

According to LPEA, there were widespread outages, with crews dispatched immediately.

The crews, LPEA explains in a message to members, isolated a broken cross-arm on a transmission line, as well as some scattered tree debris due to the high winds at the time.

LPEA’s website showed the power outages began shortly after midnight, with the message to members stating power was restored to all members by 6:18 a.m.

According to Pagosa Weather’s Shawn Prochazka, the peak wind at Steven’s Field airport was 51 mph at 12:55 a.m. on Monday.

The peak wind at the Lobo overlook on Wolf Creek pass was 83 mph at 12:35 a.m. on Monday, according to Pagosa Weather.

Pagosa Fire Protection District (PFPD) Deputy Chief Karn Macht explained the PFPD was dispatched to respond to several downed power lines, but those downed lines resulted in no fires.

The power outage caused a number of delays around the community, including a two-hour delay for Archuleta School District and delayed openings for organizations such as Archuleta County.

Archuleta County Combined Dispatch Emergency Communications Director Devin Moffat explained in an email to The SUN that it operated on back-up and generator power for about seven hours during the outage.

During that time, nonemergency lines were down and the Durango La Plata Emergency Communications Center was receiving Archuleta County’s 911 calls, Moffat explained.

The power outage also affected the Archuleta County Public Health building located at 502 S. 8th St. 

“As we all know, there was the big power outage yesterday morning. One of the big impacts that the county government ended up experiencing, that we didn’t anticipate, was over at public health,” said Derek Woodman, then the county manager, during the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners work session held on Tuesday, May 7. 

He added, “It all came down to maintaining the temperature for the vaccines and the prescription medications that we maintain over there.” 

Woodman explained that “everything went fine at the onset” of the power outage, but by 3 o’clock the temperatures in the cooler started “dropping to a critical level.”

Woodman explained that county staff was able to gather and transport the medication to the Pagosa Springs Medical Center, which is the backup location, by 3:30 a.m.

Woodman did not indicate that any medication was damaged.

“What we ended up finding out is there is a battery backup system that is supposed to last 14 hours,” Woodman said, explaining that the system is supposed to be plugged into the refrigerators. However, once staff started working on the issue, it was discovered that the battery backup system was not plugged into the refrigerators. 

“So, they had no emergency power source,” he said.

Woodman explained that on the initial analysis of the situation it was “determined that San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) installed the battery backup in 2020 and … hadn’t used it ever because it always tripped the breaker.”

It was determined that the battery backup system is set up to power 15 amps, but the refrigerators run off of 20 amps, “so it’s never going to work,” he added.

Commissioner Ronnie Maez commented, “They [SJBPH] never fixed it either.” 

Woodman mentioned the county is now getting quotes on three options to fix the backup system which include replacing the battery backup system with a 50 amp unit, relocating a generator from county facilities in Arboles or purchasing a new generator.

“Nonetheless, regardless, we have to do something,” Woodman said. 

He also mentioned there could be possible funding sources from the state that would cover the cost of fixing the backup system.

“We need to step up and do the right thing,” Maez said, explaining that he thinks the county should go ahead and purchase a new natural gas generator that can power the batteries and also run the whole building if needed, noting it would create a “double fail-safe.”

Woodman concurred with Maez saying, “I completely agree.”

Woodman mentioned the county has approximately $25,000 worth of medications.

“I see it as an emergency issue,” Maez added.

Commissioner Warren Brown mentioned that the county’s office of Emergency Management could also be a source of funding. 

“We have to be prepared,” Woodman added.

While no other large-scale power outages were reported, strong winds continued into the week, with the National Weather Service’s (NWS’s) Grand Junction office issuing a wind advisory for 30 to 40 mph winds with gusts as high as 60 mph for the San Juan River Basin that lasted until 9 p.m. Tuesday.

According to the NWS, the airport reached 46 mph.

High winds are not in the forecast in the coming days, though rain is expected this weekend starting on Thursday, May 9, with a 40 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms after noon, according to the NWS.

The chance of rain will increase to 60 percent Thursday night and 70 percent for Friday, May 10. The high for Friday is 63 degrees, with a forecasted low of 34 degrees.

There is a 70 percent chance of showers on Saturday, with a high of 64 degrees and a low of 33 degrees predicted.

Sunday is forecast to have a high of 68 degrees and a low of 34 degrees with a slight chance of showers and thunderstorms throughout the day.