NJUS battles strong winds to restore power to Nome residents

A bucket truck operating at night in the winter.

Gale-force winds wracked Nome on the night of Dec. 28, resulting in blackouts across much of the city. But despite the conditions, Nome Joint Utility System linemen worked overnight to get power back to residents where possible.

NJUS wasn’t able to restore power to everyone that night though. Nome Mayor John Handeland, who oversaw operations, explained some of what utility workers had to contend with.

“The lines were just whipping like crazy from the Camp 5 area there, where you turn up to Anvil. … And we just couldn’t do anything until the wind subsided. It also caused quite a bit of damage to these lines. With the whipping and shaking, the cross arms and some of the braces actually either loosened or were pulled out,” Handeland said.

Handeland said things might not have been so bad if it hadn’t been for the weather leading up to Tuesday night’s windstorm.

“We had a lot of warm temperatures (and) rain, which caused icing on the lines, so they became quite heavy. And that combined with the heavy winds just whipped things around more than usual,” Handeland said.

It has been a very stormy December in Nome, but Rick Thoman, a climatologist at the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said Western Alaska is likely through the worst of it for the moment.

“As this storm has moved out of the way, there’s another storm in the Bering Sea, but unlike most of the last several, this one is going to stay in the southern Bering Sea. And that will allow for drier, colder northeast winds across the region. Now, I say colder — we’re not looking at a return to the kind of cold that we had in late November across the region, but more seasonably cold. But the big news is we are pretty much done with the snow for at least several days here,” Thoman said.

Thoman also mentioned that, with the rain over the Christmas weekend, December 2021 has officially set a record as the December with the greatest amount of precipitation in Nome’s 115-year climate history.

The community was highly supportive of NJUS workers’ efforts to restore power to residents, Handeland said.

“I’ve passed on many of the messages that come by phone or Facebook to the crew and, when they get some of those encouraging things said, they’re even wanting to work harder to get out and get things back for folks,” Handeland said.

Image at top: An NJUS worker in a bucket truck works on power lines at the corner of Steadman Street and 3rd Avenue in Nome. Photo by John Handeland; used with permission.