Nearly 3,000 Still Without Power in Northwest Montana

Flathead Electric crews restored power to 5,000 members overnight, hope to have major remaining outages restored by Friday evening

By Myers Reece
A downed tree crushes a fence in Happy Valley on Jan 13, 2020, after a strong windstorm felled trees and caused power outrages around the Flathead Valley. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Flathead Electric Cooperative (FEC) crews working around the clock were able to restore power to roughly 5,000 members overnight, leaving almost 3,000 members still without power as of Friday morning after a huge windstorm swept through the region on Wednesday.

FEC is hoping to have all the remaining major outages restored by this evening, with the expectation that scattered single-member outages will persist into the weekend.

“We simply can’t get to all the smaller ones,” FEC spokesperson Wendy Ostrom Price said Friday morning. “We’re trying to get the most people back up as quickly as possible. We’re really making progress on the bigger ones.”

The storm, which brought winds exceeding 100 miles per hour across Western Montana, caused more than 150 outages in FEC’s service area affecting more than 16,000 members, with 2,800 still without power as of Friday morning.

Ostrom Price said crews working in “dangerous and challenging conditions” on Wednesday would restore a line only to find another one had gone down. She noted the sheer magnitude and amount of damage and debris, forcing crews to clear out areas and cut wood before even reaching the affected equipment.

Milder weather arrived to aid the restoration work, which has been occurring across a large swath of Northwest Montana, from the Swan Valley to Essex to the greater Libby area.

“Yesterday, with the sun, not only did it help the crews work, it helped morale,” Ostrom Price said. “We’re grateful for that.”

Also boosting the restoration work was the arrival of six crews, consisting of four workers each, from out of the area.

“We feel very, very fortunate because we’re certainly not the only ones to get hit with this storm,” Ostrom Price said. “It impacted co-ops across the state into Washington. We’re not alone in this.”

Ostrom Price said past windstorms have knocked out power for a larger number of FEC members, but this storm was unique in its geographical scope.

“This storm wasn’t focused anywhere, so it was very widespread across our service territory, which means crews have to travel from one end to the next, and we have a lot of ground to cover,” she said.

Bigger remaining outages are located in the areas of Bad Rock Canyon, Swan Lake, Lakeside and Rollins, Libby, and west of Kalispell, including Ashley Lake, Haywire Gulch and Lost Prairie.

“We’re actively working on those, and for most of them we hope to have full restoration by this weekend,” Ostrom Price said.

For updates, visit www.flatheadelectric.com/outage-updates, or view an outage map here.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.