Rogue wind storm snaps Pratt power poles

Jennifer Stultz
Pratt Tribune
More than 26 power poles, snapped by a rogue wind storm early Friday morning last week north of Pratt, were quickly replaced by City of Pratt electrical crew members and municipal support teams.

A rogue wind storm came roaring out of an early-morning thunderstorm and snapped off a mile of electric poles Friday along U.S. Highway  281 north of Pratt. From 20th Street to 30th Street, roughly from BTI and the Pratt Airport Authority to Iuka, more than 26 power poles were broken off, causing an electrical outage that lasted until the wee hours of Saturday morning in that area.

Pratt City Manager Bruce Pinkall said the high winds were a surprise to him and others who had been watching thunderstorm alerts late Thursday night for Pratt County.

“I felt we must have had some sort of straight line winds through there that kind of caused a chain reaction,” Pinkall said. “We had a whole lot of poles broken off right at about 5-6 feet up, but our city electric crews hustled right out to the scene and got to work. It was something we will all probably remember for some time.”

U.S. National Weather Service Meteorologist Wesley Hovraka said the Dodge City station received confirmed reports of 60-80 mile-per-hour winds that ripped through Minneola around 3 a.m., then Mullinville in Kiowa County and on to north of Pratt, then Iuka at 4:30 a.m. The winds continued on through Preston before dissipating, Hovraka said.

Several power poles were also downed along U.S. Highway 64 near Preston.

“This is Kansas. We get a lot of random wind events,” Hovraka said. “It was just the right conditions and there was a downburst through that area as those conditions intensified in the storm.”

Heavy rain fell briefly, with very moist and foggy conditions continuing through the day Friday and into Saturday. Rain reports, according to Hovraka, were a quarter to half inch on Friday.

The rain caused electric workers some problems as they worked in teams to take down damaged power poles, dig holes for new ones and put electrical lines back up.

A call from Pratt Electric Utility Director Jamie Huber to Kansas Mutual Aid brought in line crews from Wellington and Kingman to assist and teams worked efficiently together, despite the fact that after each pole was set, a truck along the roadway would have to pull the trucks working in the ditch out of the mud.

“Our crews did an amazing job making quick work of a difficult situation,” Pinkall said. “Not only did they have to contend with darkness and more rain, really wet conditions, they had mud to consider. They all worked real well together and got a system going pretty quickly.”

Pinkall said most of the downed power lines and poles did not fall directly on the highway so a lane of traffic was kept open as much as possible for the approximate 20 hours needed to fix the situation.

“Everyone was really supportive and understood what our crews were doing out there,” Pinkall said. “They got it done as fast and as safely as possible. The electricity in Iuka went back on about 1:30 a.m. on Saturday. I was really proud of our guys. It was actually a really good experience for everybody.”

Huber posted comments on Facebook after the job was done: “It’s great to have coworkers that love their jobs and a group of young eager guys that one day will look back on this day and tell the next generation about this night. Thanks to all the City of Pratt Employees that pitched in and did their part. Also thanks to the City of Kingman and City of Wellington for sending crews over to help. Kansas Mutual Aid at it’s best.”

According to meteorologist Hovraka in Dodge City, more thunderstorms were predicted for Tuesday night into Wednesday, with a chance of snow possible on Wednesday, but that was a fluid situation, he said. After all, this is Kansas.