Why So Many Outages this Fall?

In September and October, more trees and more branches caused more outages than normally occur during the worst months of the winter. In fact we had the worst September and October for outages in more than five years, and maybe the worst September of all time. This despite having increased our tree trimming budgets for the past two years and having worked to remove additional problem trees from transmission line routes. So what happened? Well, to start with, a lot of extreme weather.


In late June, temperatures rose to record highs all over the Northwest, with Port Townsend hitting 104F and Quilcene peaking at 111F. The high temperatures cooked clams in their shells and scalded leaves on trees and bushes across the county. While 2021 didn’t come close to matching drought records set in 2015, we did have 51 consecutive rain free days this past summer, and far below average amounts of precipitation. None of which was good for trees, and especially hard on edge trees, like those along roads and powerlines, which are more exposed to the elements.


Usually the first few storms of the season have higher than average outage counts, as they bring down limbs and trees that may have died or been damaged during the summer but were still hanging around. But more rain fell in the first weekend in September than in months, and here in Jefferson County, the winds converged from west and south, knocking what seemed like half of the Olympic National Forest onto PUD powerlines. At one time there were more than 30 locations without power in the county, and thousands of customers, from Coyle to North Beach. Complete restoration took over 3 days, and some customers were without power the entire time.


The wind and rain just kept coming right through October, culminating in a giant record breaking low pressure event off the coast in late October. And trees kept falling on our lines, week after week. Some heavily tree’d areas like Gardiner, East Quilcene, Port Ludlow South, had almost nightly outages. Our crews would cut a tree out of the lines one night only to have to return the next to remove a different tree. Conspiracy theories about the repeat outages started popping up on the internet. Some suspected grid hacking and a PUD coverup. Nope, just some of the most extreme fall weather we’ve had in years coming to a heavily forested county filled with increasingly stressed out tress. Our crews expect to keep busy all winter long.



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