High winds have Mountain Parks crews hopping
Grand County, CO Colorado
Ask anybody in Grand County how the weather has been lately and they’re apt to sum it up in one word: windy.
Since late April, high winds and unstable weather have kept linemen, firefighters and tree removal companies running ragged.
“It’s definitely the worst spring I’ve seen in my five years in Mountain Parks Electric territory,” said General Manager Joe Pandy who was out on the roads Monday, May 24, trying to help line crews track down the cause of the most recent power outage.
“We’ve got an entire three-phase power line out here in Grand Lake right now,” he said. “Today we’ve had outages all over the place, from Granby to Kremmling to Walden.”
Monday’s winds gusted upwards of 50 mph, according to measurements taken at the National Weather Service station in Kremmling.
Trees, both green and brown, toppled onto houses, roads and into yards from Rendezvous in Fraser to downtown Kremmling.
Elsewhere across Colorado and Wyoming, Monday’s wind was blamed for starting a least six brush fires, toppling tractor trailers, leveling a building in Akron and injuring soldiers at Fort Carson when a tent flew off the ground during a training session.
When the high winds hit, Grand County was sitting at the axis of a large trough of low pressure, said meteorologist Kyle Fredin of the National Weather Service. High winds aren’t unusual for the months of April and May in north central and northeastern Colorado, he added, noting that the winds strengthen on the lee side of the mountains east of the Continental Divide.
“High winds are part of the process of winter transitioning into early summer,” Fredin said.
Weather systems that typically flow in a straight west-east pattern become more northwesterly as the jet stream shifts toward Canada in the spring, he explained. The changing storm track brings deep troughs of low pressure across the Rocky Mountains between the months of March and May.
Riding on an “especially strong jet stream” and with a low pressure trough stretching unusually high into the atmosphere, Monday’s weather system created severe weather as it moved into the area, from high winds and snow in the mountains to hail and tornados on the northeastern plains.
“The wind is nothing out of the ordinary for this time of year,” Fredin said, but he might be hard-pressed to find a Grand County resident who agrees.
“It’s been bad,” Pandy said. “It started around April 27-28 and it seems like we’ve been dealing with severe weather every week since.”
During the pay period that ended May 21, line crews worked 40 hours straight time and 38 hours overtime, Pandy said: “We had guys working 32 hours straight. We had to send them home just so they could get some sleep.”
Pandy offered several theories as to why the wind is wreaking more havoc than in previous years.
With millions of trees succumbing to the pine beetle, there is less demand for ground water from vegetation. The saturated soil allows green trees to fall more easily in the wind.
Also, trees that had been sheltered now stand alone and have weaker root systems and weaker trunks than they might have otherwise.
With less wind break, more moisture in the ground and unstable root systems, the U.S. Forest Service has estimated that approximately 100,000 trees will fall every day this year on its land alone.
Fire will become the primary hazard as temperatures heat up and the forests and grasslands dry out. Mountain Parks’ crews already have reported several instances over the last week when lines have started small brush fires around the county, Pandy said.
In Winter Park over the weekend, linemen discovered a fire that had started in some slash piled near a fallen power line. The crew controlled the fire with an extinguisher from their truck until firefighters arrived.
“They probably saved several vacation residences from being consumed by fire,” Pandy said.
Pandy added that the May 24 wind storm was the worst day for crews next to the heavy snowfall May 12 that brought down trees all over the county.
– Reid Armstrong can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19610 or email@example.com.
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