NorthWestern Energy has restored electric service to nearly all its customers along the Hi-Line after snow and wind last week left thousands of people without power.
The heavy, wet snow and wind hit hard at areas near Havre and stretching east about 90 miles to the Malta area on October 2nd and into October 3rd.
Some areas in and around Rocky Boy's Reservation received more than 30 inches of snow, with drifts as high as six feet or more.
Areas in and around Havre, Rudyard, and Chester received more than a foot of snow.
The storm left at least 9,500 NorthWestern Energy customers without power. Because NorthWestern counts homes and businesses as customers, the actual number of people affected by the storm and resulting outage was significantly higher than the customer count.
NorthWestern brought crews from all of its Montana divisions and employed several contract crews to help restore power, replace power poles, and rebuild power lines. More than 100 employees were involved in the restoration effort.
While snow-laden trees created issues for the system in some communities, many rural areas saw power poles snapped by snow, ice build-up, and wind. About 400 poles were brought to the ground by the storm.
In many areas, most overhead power lines running north and south sustained damage, causing many miles of lines to fall to the ground. Making repairs and fixing overhead lines was a significant part of the restoration effort. Crews replaced or made repairs on at least 2,000 poles in the restoration process.
While many customers saw service restored relatively quickly, others in the rural areas east of Havre were left without electricity for a week or more in some cases.
In a press release, NorthWestern thanked its customers in the area for their understanding and support.
“These folks are very special, capable and extraordinarily resilient,” said Jason Merkel, NorthWestern’s general manager, Operations. “The company is very fortunate to serve such a community.”
The storm damage was the most significant weather event experienced by NorthWestern in Montana in many years, according to Curt Pohl, vice president of Distribution for NorthWestern.
“The initial cost for this restoration efforts has reached about $1.7 million,” Pohl said. “However, we still have a lot of work to complete over the next few months, which will push our total restoration cost in excess of $2 million.”
“For those that had the opportunity to witness the devastation in the area, I think all would agree that is was nothing short of a humbling experience,” noted Merkel. “The crews, supervisors, engineers and management team put together a great plan and I’m very proud of the executed response.”
While nearly all customers have had electricity restored, some lines providing non-essential service, including those for irrigation pumps, may not be restored until spring. NorthWestern crews still have a large task of cleaning up storm-damaged poles and materials and will work with affected landowners in coming weeks.
Any NorthWestern customers without service should contact the company immediately at (888) 467-2669.