Telluride Experiences First Significant Winter Storm of the Season
by Watch Staff
Oct 07, 2011 | 1810 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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(Photo by Brett Schreckengost)
A strong Pacific storm hit the Telluride region on Wednesday evening, with heavy snow falling Thursday morning into the afternoon.

The moisture wreaked havoc on roads, causing mud slides, rock fall and temporary road closures. Lizard Head Pass and Red Mountain Pass were subject to chain restrictions, and Lawson Hill was closed for a period late Thursday morning.

The Telluride Ski Resort was reporting a foot of snow at mid-mountain as of late afternoon.

Despite road hazards, perhaps the biggest impact on Telluride was a major power outage that impacted residents and businesses for most of the day. Lines several cars long could be seen at local gas stations, where stranded motorists were unable to pump gas.

At 9:38 a.m. on Thursday morning, “the first outage happened on the Tri-State transmission line, about two miles south of Silverton on Molas Pass, where the wires go down into the canyon," said Brad Zaporski, San Miguel Power Association’s manager of member services, renewable energy services and energy efficiency program, on Friday. "It had to be walked on foot,” which took a few hours, he said.

Eventually workers discovered that “a really large tree had come down over the power line,” causing the massive power outage that effected Silverton, Telluride, Mountain Village, Down Valley, and some surrounding areas, said Zaporski.

“We and Tri-State found the tree” at 12:38 p.m. and had all the power back on by 2 p.m., however it took a little longer to restore power on Wilson Mesa.

Then, later in the day, SMPA was informed by Tri-State that four trees had fallen on or near its 115kv line that traverses Ophir Pass.

“Tri-State stressed to our personnel that there was an imminent hazard,” said Zaporski, and that the trees were either going to fall on the line or break the transmission system if they weren’t cleared away.

“At that point I called KOTO” Radio, and tried to inform Telluride restaurants and other businesses that power would be shut down again starting around 7 p.m. “We had to de-energize the line in order to take the trees out,” he said, explaining that the process required them to “sectionalize” the system, shutting down power in sections and then starting it back up in the same manner.

“If we turned it all on at once and the power didn’t turn back on, we would have no idea where the problem was.”

Indeed, when the line was re-energized at 8:13 p.m., it was determined there were additional problems on Wilson Mesa. Workers were able to restore power there at 10:45 p.m.

“When we have inclement weather like that… we go into high alert with our on-call people,” said Zaporski. “The outages were not caused by outages with our system… In the end it was Tri-State’s system that had to be cleared and fixed. But whenever there’s an outage we work very closely together.

"The lines between which company you work for when there’s an outage like this pretty much go away.”

Thursday's storm was followed by high winds that night, bringing sunny skies and freezing cold temperatures by Friday morning.

“There were a lot of trees down,” said Zaporski, “I was able to take a quick hike today on [Telluride’s] Waterline trail and it was incredible how many trees were down” either from wind, the heavy wet snow, or the combination of snow on still-in-leaf trees.

According to the National Weather Service, unsettled weather is expected into Saturday.

Additional snow accumulations may occur above 8,000 feet and freezing temperatures will continue into the weekend.
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