Despite Colorado’s proclivity for spring storms, an unusually calm season may have caught many members off guard. In early June, a stretch of severe storms and strong winds blew through Colorado, leaving thousands without power. When large storm systems come through the state, United Power usually has enough forewarning to prepare its crews. With June’s windstorm, known as a “derecho,” the cooperative had little to no advanced notice.
Derechos are fast-moving bands of thunderstorms featuring hurricane- or even tornado-like winds. A storm system qualifies as a derecho when it sustains wind gusts of at least 58 miles per hour over a path measuring 250 miles or more. June’s derecho was Colorado’s first and also one of the strongest on record. Before dispersing over South Dakota, the storm had left a 600-mile stretch of damage. Wind gusts, reaching 78 miles per hour at Denver International Airport and 110 in the mountains, were the strongest for a day since 2004.
Derechos cover a lot of ground over a relatively small period of time due to their rapid movement. The result is a storm that hits hard, leaves behind significant damage and is over quickly.
“It was clear a storm was moving in, and we were prepared for that,” said Ken Christensen, United Power foreman. “Then the storm was on us one minute and gone the next. It was over as quickly as it happened. It was difficult to imagine it doing that much damage.”
The earliest storm-related outages were triggered near Thornton when high winds blew a light pole into a stretch of line powering several homes in the area. As the storm moved through the territory, it found weak tree limbs and other unsecured – or weakly secured – objects to blow into power lines. The most extensive damage occurred east of the Platte River. North of Fort Lupton, a sheet metal shed took out power to a large industrial site and several homes. In Brighton, a trampoline was tossed into lines nearly 50 feet above the ground and strong winds toppled a beloved evergreen near Historic City Hall, traditionally decorated to celebrate Christmas.
“With all the downed tree limbs, it can take us longer to diagnose the cause of an outage because we have to cut our way in to find it,” said Jason Roberts, journeyman lineman. “Then, after that, we have to actually make the repairs to restore power.”
Extensive damage was particularly problematic in Brighton, where several members were without power for an extended period of time. Linemen from the Carbon Valley and Coal Creek offices were dispatched to the eastern territory to assist with restoring power to more than 10,000 members who had lost power during the storm and in its aftermath.
“Thunderstorms and windstorms aren’t uncommon for this time of year,” said Mike Robinson, a safety specialist at United Power and former lineman. “But as far as windstorms go, this was the worst we’ve seen in several years.”
While storms and strong winds temporarily impeded progress throughout the weekend and into Monday, linemen were able to complete most repairs and restore remaining members early Monday.
More than 40 linemen from United Power and its contractor, Ward Electric, responded to outages following the storm and throughout the weekend to restore power as quickly and safely as possible. During the restoration process, more storm-related damage was found. Nearly 40 poles were snapped either by wind or objects the wind had picked up and tossed into poles and line. Many linemen worked extended hours throughout the night.
“I’m sure we got lots of calls from members wanting to know when their power was going to be turned back on,” said Roberts. “But we also encountered several members who wanted to help, either by bringing us food and water or coming out with saws and axes to help us clear debris. We appreciate their patience and assistance.”