Kemmeter: Storms producing power outages seem more frequent
By Gene Kemmeter
More than 5,000 customers in the Stevens Point-Plover area and elsewhere in Portage County remained without electrical power Tuesday, July 23, as the result of a storm system that raced across Wisconsin Friday night, July 19, and Saturday, July 20. That was the latest in a series of storms disrupting power in recent years.
The National Weather Service (NWS) said the storm was a derecho, a weather phenomenon that usually occurs in hot, humid weather a couple of times each year in the U.S. and is often indicated by shelf clouds. A derecho brings straight-line wind damage along a path of more than 248 miles, with gusts at least 58 miles per hour.
A gust of 86.3 mph was recorded along Plover Road in Plover at 10:29 a.m. Saturday.
The NWS said two derechos actually swept through Wisconsin. One on Friday caused wind damage from east-central Minnesota through northwest, central and northeast Wisconsin and then into lower Michigan, covering a distance of 490 miles.
The second one on Saturday caused wind damage from western South Dakota across central and northeastern Wisconsin to northern lower Michigan, causing destruction that covered 860 miles, the NWS said. The storm system also created at least 12 tornadoes in Wisconsin, five on Friday and seven Saturday, the NWS reported.
Because of the widespread damage, state and local officials were unable to determine the extent of the damage at the beginning of the week, but tree damage might total thousands of acres. Hartman Creek State Park on the Portage-Waupaca County line was closed due to damage and downed trees there, and will probably remain closed through Thursday,
The U.S. Forest Service said that damage to the Chequamegon Nicolet National Forest was most extensive in Oconto County in northeastern Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources reported state properties sustained damage from Sawyer County in the northwest to Door County in the east.
Locally, the storm with torrential rain caused the usual disruption to motorists, with both the Church Street and Michigan Avenue underpasses closed to traffic because of flooding. The downed trees and power lines blocked roads, forcing motorists to find alternate routes. This storm was also more widespread throughout the county and undoubtedly rivaled or exceeded two other major storms in the last decade.
A July 19, 2011, storm caused more than $1 million in damages in the city of Stevens Point; the villages of Park Ridge, Whiting and Junction City; and the towns of Hull, Linwood, Stockton and Sharon. That storm also threatened to force the evacuation of St. Michael’s Hospital because of a power outage that lasted three or more days in some areas, and left lasting damage to trees at Schmeeckle Reserve and SentryWorld golf course.
A strong thunderstorm brought torrential rainfall and straight-line winds to the area on June 12, 2017, again disrupting electricity, downing trees, flooding roads and exposing sewer and water lines in a short period of time. Up to three inches of rain fell in a half-hour that time, and more that 12,000 customers were without power in the Stevens Point area alone.
A derecho isn’t a new phenomenon in Wisconsin. They’ve already been recorded in the state in 1983, 1991, 2011 and 2014. But this is the first one recorded in this area, and the latest in a series of rain storms that have caused widespread power outages in the county. The electrical outages, whether they last for hours, overnight or for days, make everyone realize how much they miss the modern conveniences associated with electricity and how fortunate society is to have them.
Many residents have now added generators to back up more frequent outages.
The storms also make residents realize how much everyone depends on other people to help clean up after the storm is over. The return to normality also relies on the service and dedication from public servants and others who work around the clock to rectify the situation. Neighbors help neighbors, checking in to see if everything is OK and picking up debris which was spread throughout the area.