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Power restored after rare storm sparks widespread outages

Transmission line _ Poux
Sabine Poux
As of Thursday afternoon, power had been restored to all Homer Electric Association members.

A rare lightning storm knocked out power to thousands of Homer Electric Association members early this morning.

Tanya Lautaret with HEA said the utility first got reports of outages between 5 and 6 a.m., impacting over 13,000 members along Kalifornsky Beach Road, down through Kasilof and Anchor Point. Linemen determined there was no damage to the power line around 10:30 a.m. and quickly restored power to all members. Chugach Electric, which covers Cooper Landing up through Anchorage, did not experience any outages.

Lautaret said it’s safe to say the outages were started by the thunderstorms that shook Southcentral early Thursday morning. She says that’s not what usually happens.

“Typically in the summer, outages are caused more by trees on the line," she said. "So this is unusual and this storm this morning was definitely something out of the norm for us in Southcentral Alaska.”

Thunder and lightning storms are rare for Southcentral Alaska.

But are we seeing them more frequently these days?

Brian Brettschneider, a research physical scientist with the National Weather Service Alaska Region, said it's hard to say.

That's partly because there aren’t that many storms to track. That means data on the matter is sparse.

“So even if it was increasing or decreasing, it would be really hard to tell," he said.

He said there is some data from Anchorage that dates back over a century. And he said there is a non-trivial increase in those 100 years, of about 40 percent.

“But again, we’re dealing with mostly a small sample size of events," he said. "Now, in the last, say, 30 years, we have a lightning detection network around the state. But again, 30 years, that’s only barely long enough to start to talk about any trends.”

He said theoretically, he’d expect to see more thunderstorms as the world continues to warm and there’s more moisture in the atmosphere.

Any increases in lightning could also mean more lightning-caused wildfires. The 2019 Swan Lake Fire on the Kenai Peninsula started with a lighting strike.

At about noon Thursday, Sam Harrel with the Alaska Division of Forestry said no lightning-strike fires were apparent on the peninsula yet. But he said it sometimes takes a few days for lightning-caused fires to show themselves.

That’s been the case for a spate of lightning-caused fires in Southwest Alaska, including atundra fire in St. Mary’s. Lightning is also likely the culprit for the ongoing Contact Creek Fire in Katmai National Park.

Sabine Poux is a producer and reporter for the Brave Little State podcast of Vermont Public. She was formerly news director and evening news host at KDLL in Kenai.

Originally from New York, Sabine has lived and reported in Argentina and Vermont and Kenai.
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