The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

By Don Ogle
Sidney Sun-Telegraph 

Spring Storm Cripples Area

 

April 18, 2018

Don Ogle

A hard-hitting spring storm that hit the area Friday left more than a hundred motorists stranded around Sidney, and electric customers from Sidney to Lake McConaughy without power for between 24 and 48 hours.

The storm began dropping snow mid-morning, and around 11:30 a.m., a multi-vehicle accident on Interstate 80 near mile marker 66 was reported and it went downhill from there.

The Nebraska State Patrol reported two major areas where accidents and poor visibility shut down traffic on I-80, one of those more than a half mile long and the other where at least 50 vehicles were stopped. By mid-day, all highways around Sidney were closed.

Troopers with the Nebraska State Patrol (NSP), working with the Cheyenne County Sheriff's Office, Sidney Police Department, Sidney Public Schools, Region 21 Emergency Management, the Nebraska Department of Transportation, and others, worked to clear all of the stranded vehicles.

The Patrol reported that assembled law enforcement officers went door to door, knocking on all vehicles and rescuing occupants. The rescued motorists were taken by Sidney Public Schools buses to First United Methodist Church in Sidney, and later to local hotels. More than 100 motorists were rescued.

Ron Leal, Region 21 Emergency Management coordinator, said local agencies responded well in rescuing motorists, with the operation going very well.

"The work between the agencies was phenomenal," Leal said.

Leal said the local CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) helped receive motorists into the emergency shelter, working to obtain meals and calling hotels, which provided rooms for those stranded at reduced rates. Sonny's Super Foods was called for groceries, which were obtained after hours.

Leal also said the use of buses from the schools was also huge, after responders had spent hours bringing people into town in regular vehicles.

"Their offer of the buses shortened things up getting people into town by a lot," Leal said.

Other stories of the team effort were part of the response. One of those was when a Regional West Ambulance became stuck while checking down the road for stranded cars. The ambulance was thankfully not carrying anyone who had been injured, but got stuck in a drift at Exit 69. The snow was cleared away by Department of Transportation trucks, then pulled out by Affordable Towing of Sidney.

By about 2 a.m. Saturday, most responders and motorists had ended their day. The following morning, motorists were returned to their vehicles, which were cleared out one at a time as DOT trucks moved snow from around each.

In other parts of the county, electrical workers waged a battle of their own. Crews from Wheatbelt Public Power District responded to outages resulting from a variety of causes.

Wheatbelt officials told the Sun-Telegraph that much of its system was affected, with outages from the Sidney area to Bayard to the Lake McConaughy area. Lodgepole was also without power for the better part of a day. Some of those outages came from the system's provider, Western Area Power Administration, but others came from downed lines, broken poles and other problems.

Forrest Hershberger

Sidney's downtown was covered with huge flakes at the beginning of last Friday's storm. By day's end, the pretty snow became a raging blizzard the wreaked havoc over the area.

Wheatbelt had restored most power in its system by Sunday. Now crews, who had first focused on power restoration to customers, are going back to make more permanent repairs in some areas.

High West Energy, which serves power customers more to the west of Sidney, didn't have as many interruptions as their neighbors to the east.

"We lucked out this time," said High West Operations Manager Ken Haas. While crews handled those few problems, High West sent seven crews to help Wheatbelt with its restoration efforts.

Sidney did not suffer widespread outages during the storm, handling just a few minor problems.

The National Weather Service in Cheyenne said officially, Sidney received eight inches of snow. But with that snow being driven by 60 mile-per-hour winds, it didn't take long for the problems, and drifts, to build.

Some areas of the county did not get fully opened up until late Sunday and early Monday.

 

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