WATFORD CITY – A power outage in McKenzie County late Friday and early Saturday caused residents of 1,750 households to seek warmth as temperatures approached 20 below zero.
The outage, which for some lasted several hours, is prompting officials in the rapidly growing county to consider purchasing generators and taking other measures to protect residents in extreme cold emergencies.
“There are definitely some major issues here,” said Jerry Samuelson, McKenzie County emergency manager. “We have to work on alternative heat sources or shelters if this is going to be an issue.”
The power outage, affecting 1,750 households in Watford City, Arnegard, Alexander and Rawson, started for customers of Montana-Dakota Utilities about 5 p.m. Friday, said MDU spokesman Mark Hanson.
“We had an issue at one of the substations that was caused by the cold weather,” Hanson said.
Crews repaired the substation and started restoring power in sections so that circuits would not be overloaded, Hanson said.
Some areas of Watford City had power restored at 6:30 p.m. Friday, while some residents of the outlying towns didn’t have power until 11 p.m., Hanson said. A second outage affected residents of Alexander, Arnegard and Rawson from about midnight to 2 a.m. Saturday, he said.
Rural McKenzie County residents who are customers of McKenzie Electric Cooperative were not affected. Many residents sought shelter with friends and family who still had power.
“It got down to 50 in some homes,” Samuelson said.
The temperature in Watford City late Friday was 18 below zero with a wind chill index of 37 below zero, the National Weather Service reported.
Nuverra Environmental Systems, formerly Power Fuels, still had power in its apartment buildings on the edge of Watford City and offered its community room as a shelter, Samuelson said. Officials also were preparing to open the Watford City Civic Center as a shelter, he said.
Arnegard Mayor Virginia Elliot said she stayed with relatives who live in the county and had power, but many local residents went to their vehicles for warmth until power was restored.
“It wasn’t a good situation,” Elliot said.
Hanson said the outage was due to the cold weather, not caused by the growing number of power customers.
However, community leaders said power outages have become more common in recent years.
“Since the oil boom and everything started, we have had a lot more outages,” Elliot said. “Their lines are just so overloaded now that they just have problems.”
In Arnegard, officials are considering building a shelter and getting a generator, Elliot said.
“Hopefully there will be more people in the community here now that think that’s necessary,” she said.
Samuelson said he plans to talk to county commissioners about purchasing generators and making plans for power outages. He also is working to get cots and blankets to fire stations for people who become stranded in winter storms.
A rural power outage would have been even worse, Samuelson said, because it would have affected a lot of people in RVs and temporary housing.
“This is going to be an ongoing thing, I think, with all these additional users in the system,” Samuelson said.