HAMILTON – About 5,900 Bitterroot Valley households met the coldest day of the year without power Thursday morning.
Fortunately, the power outage that impacted most of the east side of the Bitterroot Valley didn’t last long.
“The NorthWestern crews did a good job in getting it up and going again quickly, despite the fact it was 24 degrees below zero this morning,” said Jim Maunder of Ravalli Electric.
The outage originated from a large NorthWestern Energy transmission line that runs along the east side of the Bitterroot Valley.
It impacted about 4,700 Ravalli Electric customers and another 1,200 NorthWestern Energy customers, starting a little before 6 a.m.
For the most part, power was restored by about 7:30 a.m., but some homes in the Stevensville area were without electricity and heat until closer to 10:30 a.m.
The outage was caused when some smaller wires near Stevensville broke apparently from the extreme cold, said NorthWestern Energy spokesperson Butch Larcombe.
When the lines broke, it caused a larger transmission line that runs from Missoula to Hamilton to switch off. Service was restored quickly to all customers outside the Florence to Corvallis area.
“Extreme cold can add mechanical stress on those lines,” Larcombe said.
There were no other reasons for the line to break, like a branch falling on it or a power pole knocked over.
“Sometimes we don’t find a cause when the weather is like this,” Larcombe said. “We attribute it to the cold. The cold is tough on equipment.”
Schools in Stevensville and Lone Rock were canceled after the outage left buildings without heat or electricity. Corvallis schools opted to start two hours late.
Maunder said about 75 Ravalli Electric customers in the Meridian to Bear Creek area on the west side of the valley were impacted from a separate outage after a line went out in that area.
Maunder urged people to be careful in not using too much electricity immediately after a power outage like Thursday’s.
“Some people like to turn on everything when the power comes back,” he said. “When the temperatures outside are 24 below, the lines can warm too fast and cause regulators to trip. We hope people will slowly turn their power back on.”
It’s also a good idea to let the power company know if your electricity doesn’t return when it’s obvious that everyone else has had theirs restored.
“There can be spotty outages after a major outage like this one,” he said. “If your power it still out and you can see lights across the street, give us a call.”