I have heard the term "30 Year Flood" many times growing up. I remember back in 1996 when we had a big flood in the local area, it was wild to see that much water flowing so quickly down the small rivers and streams. Finally dumping off into the Columbia River. Creeks and streams disregarding the banks that had kept them on the same path for years... now creating new path. Honestly I never thought I would see the day when something like that happened again. Welp, 24 years laters and 2 days prior to the exact date it happened back in 1996 it happened again. This time around I am not just a teenager looking around all, ”Oooohhhh.... Aaahhhhh” in amazement at the destruction, as we drove by site seeing. This time around I have to get involved and see things first hand. I have to track down a few power outages related to the mass amounts of water overflowing the creeks, streams, and rivers. Despite, mud slides, uprooted trees, and poles surrounded my rushing water, the system held together pretty well, if I do say so myself... except in a few areas.
<A Day With A Lineman*
So far it has been a pretty mild winter. Snow in the higher elevations like usual but down here in the valley... rain!! Typically we get a decent amount of snow down here but this year it came and left. Thanks to the rain. I don’t care for the rain at all, especially since I have to be out working in it. Just because it is raining doesn't mean that Lineman stop working. To me the rain gets old really fast, 2 days of rain and I am sick of it. That’s why I live on the “Desert” side of Washington State.
Before the warm weather and rain hit the higher elevations, the valley was like a wet dog...Saturated. As the rain melted the snow, it was like double the amount of water attempting to soak into the ground. Instead it stayed on the surface and began flowing into the creeks and streams at a overwhelming rate.
Talking to several people in the area, they said this flood happened pretty fast compared to the 1996 flood. Also it had a lot more water but less debris. So you are probably wondering what this flood has to do with my job as a High Voltage Lineman?? Well, when you have creeks blowing out their banks and washing out trees and roads...
A power pole or two can’t be left out of the mess. One or two are bound to be swallowed up by the flood waters. People love living in proximity to creeks, streams, and rivers. So that means there are power poles near by. So let’s just put “2 and 2 together” shall we?
When I received my first outage call at 4am, I was thinking the worst. Actually I was just wondering what the #%&$ time it was and who would be $@#%^ was calling me... I do tend to get a little weird when I get woke up, but they are used to it. Anyway... The location of the outage was a group of houses right along a winding river. Our poles form a somewhat straight line, so the wire crosses the winding river in several places.
I was really expecting to find one of the poles washed out and the power lines all tangled up in a knot. A huge mess!!! Throughout the 30 minute drive there I was thinking how to sectionalize the line. I know there is a way to disconnect this section of line and re-energize all the customers using a different source.
I guess expecting the worst and finding out that there was just one span of wire down was a pleasant surprise. Even though it took wading through knee deep water in a customers horse pasture... lots of horse poop.... lots.... At least the pole we needed to climb was only surrounded by knee deep rushing water in laid over tall grass. You never knew when you would sink beyond the knee...
Daylight broke as we trudged through the water, threw on our hooks and got to work getting this wire pulled back up. Take a look at the pole “down stream” of us... get it “down stream” as in down the river and down the line.... ya okay never mind....
The two phase wires were wrapped up with the neutral (lower wire). A quick little cowboy whip and they came untangled. That didn’t help the wire on the ground but we would have had some fireworks if we had tried to energize with them like that.
We think a tree may have been uprooted and fallen into the line tearing it down. It was tough to tell what happened with the amount of damage around us. Us Lineman have a lot of fun playing Sherlock Holmes...
Hooks on and up the pole I went out of the frigid cold water, I had enough of that. Before the other guys got there I had been walking in it in the dark trying to find out what happened and where the wire was at. Well come to find out, they had been too, just at another outage. Man do I feel like a jerk...
My Boy Cheez-it beat me to it and was up the pole first. He basically did the work and I was just there to install the protective grounds and help him in anyway I could. Maybe even provide a little comic relief, what I do best😜😜. To a Lineman, wire down is a routine fix. De-energize, test and ground ~ Pull the wire up with the hand line ~ Use a hoist to get it up to proper tension and splice it back together game over...
Though a little wet, this outage was a rather easy one, once I found out what was goi on. We all had a feeling this was be the start of a Loooooong day. I just hope I don’t end up back here later due to one of these poles washing out by the river...
Nature left us one more surprise when we were leaving, the long gravel driveway that led to this customers house... it’s no longer dry. A 100-150 foot long section of it was covered by rushing water. It wasn’t like that when I came down it a few hours prior and there was no water on either side of it either?!?!?
After energizing the line and checking that everyone effected by the outage had electricity, we made our way up into the Blue Mountains to see what kind of mess was going on up there. There was already another one of our crews working in a different area, clearing fallen trees off the line and putting the wire back up while tying not to get washed down the creek. What a mess!!
The Road that Turned into a River
Of course... an out of control creek
Sometimes we gotta get fancy and dig into our bag of tricks to get the job done. Trying to get wire back over the creek and over the top of the washed out trees was definitely a challenge. Let’s just say a fishing pole and a 5/8 inch nut worked perfectly to get a line to the other side. Then we used the fishing line to pull some jet-line over, then pulled back some mule tape, then pulled the wire over... make sense??? Basically we had to pull some sort of rope/line back and forth over the creek and through the tree branches until we had something strong enough to pull the wire across with. The banks of the creek were eroding and the tree kept leaning farther and farther as their root balls slowly got unearthed by the creek. Just behind the line of fallen trees and bushes that creek is running wild. Lol
After we got that customer’s lights going again, it was further up S#!& Creek we went. There are 3 places on this road where we drive our trucks right across the creek. Granted certain times of the year it’s pretty sketchy, when the water is up to the bottom of the truck. Well, we couldn’t even get a truck close to the first creek crossing. We ended up having to following a D7 Cat up what was left of the road in our side by side.
Wouldn’t you know it, at the first creek crossing we found a pole that had been washed out and the butt had been pushed down stream about 10-15 feet with a pile of debris caught on it.
All that movement in the pole caused the wires to sag down and contact the steel phone messenger and trip the circuit. Keep in mind, these people are basically trapped up here unless they leave on foot or some type of ATV. Even some ATV’s won’t make it out. So we had to find a way to “Temp” this pole up and get the wire in the clear from the trees and phone line.
The butt of the pole was caught in the current with what looked like a root ball pressed against it. We tried hoists and the winch on the side by side to move the pole butt. It wasn’t budging. The guy with the dozer called it a day and without being able to move the butt of the pole, the extreme tension of the phone and Powerlines pulling certain directions, this pole was going to have to wait. We tried to straighten the top at least but that wasn’t working either. Not being able to move the butt of the pole was really screwing things up. We spent a few hours trying to find some way to get this pole halfway straight and secure. We ended securing the but of the pole with a rope to a stump and added some support to the top by tightening up the down guys to some nearby trees. Hopefully this pole won’t go anywhere... hopefully...
We realized our best bet to get these people electricity was to somehow get the phase wire lifted up and out of the way of everything. Time to go redneck on this one. We need to get real “creative”. I do have to say, this is one part of the job that tests your ingenuity and your ability to think waaaay outside the box. Plus we need to be cautious and make sure it is safe for the public and surrounding areas.
What we came up with the ended up surviving 20-30 mph winds, rain/snow, and not a single blink on the line. That is “Jimmy Riggin’” it at its finest. Okay let me show you what we came up with...
First we have extendable hotsticks called Extendo-Sticks. They can be extended about 40 feet. Each section locks into place, then you extend the next section. If you have followed me for a while you have seen me use this extendo stick to knock frost and ice off the Powerlines. These hotsticks are also tested at 100,000 volts per foot dry and wet. So what better tool to use to support energized wires than this. We just had to figure out a way to secure it so it would move.
After positioning the extendo under the wire and placing the wire between a fork like part of an attachment. We pushed the wire vertically, then walked the bottom of the stick to a tree and secured it with some mule tape or rope.
These extendo sticks have a good amount of flex in them, so just leaning it on the phone line wasn’t enough. The end of the hotstick just flexed over the phone line and we lost the height that we needed to get the phase wire in the clear. So we installed a “Kickstand”. This pushed in the middle of the extendo stick, bowing it in the other direction. Therefore taking some of the bend out of the end of the end that had the weight of the wire.
We all looked at each other and had full confidence this was going to work. We just had to do this exact thing in one more place and we would be ready to heat the line up. Look at that masterpiece...
You gotta do whatcha gotta do sometimes
We finished just in time as it was started to get dark on us. We still had to make our way down the washed out road to be able to energize the line.
We learned real fast that the dozer wasn’t able to get containment of the creek. The road had more water flowing over it than it did when we came up. A couple of guys took off in the side by side to go get setup to energize the line while the other two of us headed down on foot. I gave it one attempt to walk down the road where the creek had been running over it... nope, not gonna do that. One of the guys came back to get us in the side by side and said it was pretty sketchy getting out of there. You just have no idea when or where the big washed out holes are. Plus it’s dark outside and the headlights can change the appearance of things a bit.
This happened on Friday, and after a windy, snowy weekend the Dozer was back up there making a road for the guys to access the pole. This was Monday and I was off taking care of other stuff but I did get a Snapchat video from one of the guys showing that our “temporary poles” survived the weekend. Sorry for the picture quality, I had to stop the video and take a screen shoot of it. They help up nicely.
We are definitely going to keep that one in our bag of tricks. Now I don’t just carry one extendo stick anymore, I carry 2. :wink:wink
Given the circumstances, all of us Lineman were really surprised that there wasn’t more outages than we had. We were expecting total carnage on certain areas. We made it out pretty easy on this one. Word has it that the other power company didn’t do so well...
A Day With A Lineman #46
The 2020 Flood
Thanks for stopping by and I hope you enjoyed what you saw. At that I will leave you with a few more photos to look at... cheers!!
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