Sudden windstorm takes out power for thousands in Wrangell and Petersburg

Downed trees and the broken top of a utility pole sit in Zimovia Highway near City Park on Tuesday afternoon.
(Courtesy Don Sherman)

Wrangell and other Southeast Alaska communities experienced power outages Tuesday after a sudden windstorm snapped utility poles and downed trees, plunging thousands into darkness and causing an Alaska Airlines flight to skip its Wrangell stop.

The first outages happened on Wrangell Island around 12:30 Tuesday.

Wrangell capital facilities director Amber Al-Haddad told KSTK in a phone call Tuesday afternoon that the storm caused a problem with the Southeast Alaska Power Agency hydroelectric transmission line entering Wrangell from the strait. The line also moves electricity to Petersburg, about 50 miles north of Wrangell.

The storm also snapped the tops off of three utility poles near Wrangell’s City Park, causing power outages in Petersburg as well.

As of Tuesday evening, Wrangell was still running on a standby diesel generator. Around 100 Wrangell residents who live out the highway were expected to be without power for much of the night and possibly into Wednesday.

Power was restored to some of Wrangell town beginning around 2:00 p.m. and continuing through the afternoon.

Downed trees also damaged power lines near Wrangell’s ferry terminal, shutting off electricity to the airport for nearly four hours. That caused an Alaska Airlines jet on the milk run from Petersburg to skip its scheduled landing in Wrangell.

The main access to Wrangell’s hospital was also cut off by fallen trees, necessitating hospital access by a gravel road. The Wood Street fallen trees also took out power for the eastern side of Zimovia Highway from Case Avenue to the old Armory Building on Bennett Street.

The National Weather Service in Juneau said that rapidly warming temperatures, melting snow and heavy rains saturated the ground, making trees and power lines less stable.

The forecasters reported wind speeds greater than 35 mph at the Wrangell Airport. Wrangell harbor residents reported top wind speeds of 47 mph to KSTK Tuesday afternoon.

KSTK - Wrangell

KSTK is our partner station in Wrangell. KTOO collaborates with partners across the state to cover important news and to share stories with our audiences.

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