An incursion of lightning and strong winds knocked out power to about 10,000 La Plata Electric Association customers Wednesday evening in Durango and the Animas Valley.
The outage occurred about 8 p.m. when a tree branch snapped and landed on a transmission line that serves multiple substations, said LPEA vice president of operations Jerry Sutherlin. The tree branch broke near Miller Middle School in the Junction Creek area in west Durango, he said.
“It was nuts. It was like a microburst came through,” Sutherlin said. “The lightning mixed with the high winds; it’s a bad combination for power.”
Power was completely restored to all customers by 9:13 p.m., he said.
Transmission lines travel long distances and serve multiple substations, whereas distribution lines travel short distances and serve fewer people, Sutherlin said.
Because the tree branch landed on a transmission line, it knocked out power to a large number of customers, including much of downtown Durango, the west side of town and north up the Animas Valley to Trimble Lane, he said.
“Parts of downtown were out,” he said. “The way that our substations and circuits run, it can be bits and pieces. One side of the street will be on and the other side of the street will be off.”
David Byers, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said the lightning and whipping winds were most likely the result of a downburst. He said downbursts come from surrounding storms and can travel 10 to 30 miles from the point of origin.
“If a downburst occurs up a canyon it can come down a canyon,” he said. “And if there are lots of cells, you can get a downburst over multiple locations and then they converge.”
He added: “It seems like drier air has been pushing in, which pushes the bases of thunderstorms higher. The higher they are, the more wind you get out of them.”
Once LPEA crews located the tree branch and cleared it from the transmission line, they had to restore power to each of the substations, Sutherlin said.
He said the outage highlights the importance of LPEA’s tree trimming program, which aims to keep power lines clear of tree branches.
Florida resident George Suydam and his daughter were parked in the west 100 block of 11th Street when the storm came through. They had just sat down for dinner at Primi Pasta & Wine Bar when they realized a large tree branch had fallen onto their vehicles.
They called police to have the tree branch removed. They were relieved to find only minor damage to their two cars, but a third vehicle had more extensive damage.
“I went and talked to the police officer, came back, sat down and ate dinner,” he said.