When North Bend weather’s Mark Davis sent Living Snoqualmie a weather article entitled, Snoqualmie Valley Weather: Will we have a White Christmas, I’m not sure any of us were prepared for how the end of 2022 would end.
The Snoqualmie Valley is not known for its snowy Decembers, with the area averaging about 1.6 days of snow in the last month of the year. When it comes to White Christmases, at best, we have a 4-5% chance of seeing the fluffy stuff on the 25th.
So, when Mark wrote that article, even though there was a possibility of a lot of snow, I wasn’t too worried about dealing with yucky weather around the holidays.
The first snow arrived on cue in the afternoon on Sunday, December 18th. We are so lucky to have kind neighbors who plow right away (Thanks Jack and Arlond!), and I was able to grocery shop the morning of the 19th. More snow arrived later that day.
December 20th rolled around with rain, then more snow, but nothing too crazy. North Bend had a power line down, and garbage services were canceled (as usual) in North Bend and Snoqualmie. It looked like business as usual in the Snoqualmie Valley…a little snow, rain, and trash piled up to the roof but usual.
Wednesday the 21st brought our first indication that perhaps this wouldn’t be a typical holiday season. The first line of Mark’s forecast that day was, “We have a weather event possibly coming that we haven’t seen since 2012.” This time the prediction was wind first, and then the earlier predicted freezing rain.
I remember that storm. A tree came down near us at the end of our long private road, and we were without power for a week! It was cold; according to Mark, our low that day was 16°. I had arranged to pick my turkey up on Friday the 23rd, but following our weather wonders excellent advice, I moved that up to the 22nd.
Snoqualmie Pass was closed in both directions due to multiple collisions, blocking vehicles and traffic was lined up as far as you could see from the 436th overpass. By 730 that evening, the wind had started, and our power was out in North Bend and many other places across the Snoqualmie Valley.
Three hours later, I got this text from my neighbor down the road, “Hey, power lines just came down on our hill.” Then a few minutes later, “On fire in the street. We’re calling PSE now.” Seven minutes later, “Just called 911; it’s sizzling and smoky.”
Riverbend seemed to get the full force of the storm, with several houses damaged by falling trees. Homeowner Kavita Maya said on Thursday the 22nd at 10:15 pm, there was a huge crash, and a tree was through their roof and on their car.
Maya said, “Friday the 23rd at 8 am, I went out to assess the damage and saw neighbors gathering in the street. Several guys had chainsaws and started limbing and sectioning the three trees in the road; once the trees were cleared from the street, they began clearing them from my car and yard so I could get in and out of my house safely.”
“During that time, a neighbor was driving around with an extra generator for anyone who had no source of heat- which I don’t since we have no fireplace. They hooked me up with the generator and gas. I asked on the neighborhood Facebook group and found someone with a space heater and someone else who could drive me to get it. Several neighbors delivered essentials- cat litter, milk, soup…. and coffee. My neighbors have really stepped up and helped out in countless ways.”
Estimates vary on how many houses in Riverbend sustained severe damage (three to five), but one long-time local said this was the worst she’d seen since she moved to the neighborhood in 1981.
North Bend Weather showed wind gusts of 48 mph, and Ryan Porter from Snoqualmie Weather told us Mt. Si HS showed a gust of 56 mph. While we were all trying to recover from the wind, the promised freezing rain hit on the 23rd damaging more trees and hampering efforts to regain power.
Tanner Electric’s North Bend service area had 33% (over 800) of its members out at the worst point during the first storm. Puget Sound Energy (PSE) had 2768 outages for North Bend and Snoqualmie.
When asked how dangerous the first storm made it to try and fix the lines, Tanner Electric answered, “Our crews’ work procedures to fix the lines don’t really change from storm to storm; however, the falling tree branches and ice, plus slippery road conditions for the vehicles, add complexity and time. Safety is always our number one priority, so there are situations when we have to pull crews out of dangerous areas until they can be made safe so we can re-energize the lines.”
PSE echoed that statement, “During any emergency event, if it is deemed unsafe to continue work by field workers or leadership, they stand down until the condition passes, or they are equipped with the appropriate safety equipment for the conditions. The ice event mostly caused limbs to break off the trees and fall into our lines, or smaller trees fell due to the weight of the accumulated ice. This was a slow accumulation of outages as the ice built up. Restoration took longer in the ice event because it was difficult to get our field crews to each of the outages due to snow and ice on the roadways.”
On the 24th, the temperature soared to 53°, things started melting, and power was restored. Most of us had some normal days, and others had some time to clean up the mess from the previous week.
But Mother Nature wasn’t done with us yet. At around 530 pm on Tuesday the 27th, the winds kicked up again, and the lights went out again in the Snoqualmie Valley. This time we were told PSE had lost all transmission lines into Snoqualmie, which caused all PSE and Tanner Electric customers to go out.
PSE said the two wind events produced a rapid accumulation of outages and caused branches and larger trees to damage their transmission and distribution system. During the second wind event, there was damage to the transmission system in East King County, which connected several substations together, resulting in the longer-term outage in Snoqualmie and North Bend.
Tanner Electric agreed to say, “The first storm was a bad weather event; the second was essentially just bad luck. We live in a highly forested area, and a tree fell on PSE’s transmission lines. It occasionally happens despite the best-laid plans of us humans.”
This second storm put Snoqualmie and North Bend Substation PSE outages at 8,728, and Tanner Electric was 100% out in North Bend due to PSE’s transmission line outage. PSE said the typical field craft workers involved in restoration includes Line crews, troublemen, relay techs, and wiremen. Their hours may vary, but they typically work 18 hours on and 6 hours off. Worker’s stager shifts so that we have 24×7 coverage, and work never stops until all customers are restored to service.
Tanner told us crews will typically work straight through from when the storm begins until the restoration is complete. Because this can often exceed 24 hours, they follow established industry safety rules for extended hours. When they have crews that need a safety rest, they send them home, let them sleep, and attack the remaining outages when they have completed their mandatory rest periods.
Power was restored on the 28th in Downtown Snoqualmie in the afternoon, the Ridge around 730 and North Bend at 10 pm. When I asked Tanner Operations and Engineering Manager Nick Himebauch how we could say thank you to the hard-working crews, he said, “The best way to thank our line crews is for folks to be patient. Remember that during storms, it takes a human being to put the power back on. The crews at Tanner are all from the area and really take ownership and pride in getting the lights back on when they are out. They work as fast as they possibly can safely. During bad weather, things tend to take a little longer. Our crews also appreciate good comments on social media and well wishes.”
So, THANK YOU, PSE and Tanner Electric crews. We appreciate all the hard work you did for us in that cold last week of December 2022!