A Tale of Two Windstorms

By Kris Capps

Josh Davis, GVEA’s director of operations, coordinating with the line crews during the July outage.

When 2 windstorms slammed into Interior Alaska in July and August, every lineman Golden Valley Electric Association could find worked nonstop to restore power.

The strong winds toppled trees, damaged power lines, and caused massive destruction throughout the Fairbanks area. Outages were widespread.

“The July wind storm was the worst storm we’ve had in my 18 years here,” says Josh Davis, director of operations for GVEA.

A former lineman himself, Josh knew he needed all hands on deck to restore power during this storm. As soon as it became evident that the wind was causing widespread damage, Josh recruited every lineman he could find, including from other communities on the road system.

“We had 44 linemen, plus one crew that drove up from Anchorage, worked, then drove back,” he says. “I just wanted more help.”

The windstorm hit at 4 p.m. on July 25.

“We really couldn’t make much progress until 9:30 p.m. that night,” Josh says.

At one point 29,000 members were without power, some for as long as 7 days.

“That came upon us out of nowhere,” Josh says. “It was pretty gnarly. Then, in August, we had a similar intense wind storm. It also caused a fair amount of damage.”

Just 2 weeks after that first storm, high winds hit again. The August 8 windstorm happened as a cold front moved into the Fairbanks area. As the front approached Fairbanks, the winds grew stronger as cold air mixed with warmer air surrounding the city, according to the National Weather Service. The temperature difference created further atmospheric instability and thus stronger winds.

This time, widespread outages affected more than 8,000 members in 127 outages, according to GVEA. Eleven crews consisting of more than 30 linemen worked to identify the cause of all 127 outages and then restore power

When the power goes out, lineman have a basic plan of attack.

“We strategically move from the largest outages to the smallest,” Josh says. “Our goal is to safely restore power to the most people as quickly as possible.”

Lineman Journeyman Jesse McGhee works to restore power to members.

There are times when, due to location, it makes more sense to repair a small outage, before going on to the next big one. But that is usually an exception.

Sometimes a home with the sole outage in the area, must wait until bigger outages are back online.

“Transmission lines – that’s what we jump on,” Josh says.

Trees hit transmission lines hard during the July 25 storm. Every time linemen fixed one outage, another outage suddenly appeared. All the linemen could do was follow the trail and make repairs along the way as quickly as possible.

“A lot of people see a crew in their area and think they’ll get power back on, then they don’t – maybe they were the only person in that area with no power,” he says. “In 2013, my neighbor was out of power the entire storm, like five days, just because it was a one person outage. A crew would head out to help them out, then get diverted to a bigger outage. So if you know you’re part of a single outage, please be patient. We’re coming to you, but it will take time.”

During that July 25 storm, linemen made thousands of repairs to damaged poles and lines.

“Over 2,000 splices were issued,” Josh says.

Lineman also replaced about 200 cross arms on poles.

“A lot of times when a tree goes through an arm, it yanks the arm down the pole and splits it down the middle,” he says, “We can pick that arm back up and stitch it back together. We did a lot of that.”

“The good news: the integrity of that pole is even stronger now.”