Braving the Blizzard: Local 1245 linemen restore power after massive snowstorms sweep through Tahoe

From its picturesque snow-covered vistas to its epic ski slopes, Lake Tahoe is the quintessential winter-time tourist destination.

A big blizzard is generally a celebrated event in the Tahoe area, especially given the fact that the past few years have brought little snow to the mountains. But this winter, the extreme drought finally ended, and Tahoe got walloped with a series of massive snowstorms. Many of the area’s most popular resorts reported record-setting snowfall, with more than 23 feet during the first few weeks of January.

But heavy snowfall meant a significantly higher-than-average number of outages across the region. The utility company that services the area, Liberty Energy, needed reinforcements, so they called in a dozen Local 1245 line crews from Par Electric, Titan and Summit Line to get the power back on.

What We’re Up Against

A lineman’s job is never easy, but the monumental blizzard conditions made the restoration work in Tahoe particularly difficult.

Line foreman Russ Nolen
“Just getting here was a challenge,” said Par Electric Line Crew Foreman Russell Nolen. “We had to chain up all four tires on every vehicle. Getting through traffic when there’s only one lane open was tough, but people have been really good about getting out of our way because they know what we’re up against.”

The Utility Reporter caught up with Nolen and his crew as they were working in a residential area of Squaw Valley. In addition to the challenges on the roads, the linemen also had to contend with blowing snow that resulted in decreased visibility, as well as freezing, wet and sometimes slippery conditions. But the skilled and seasoned crew took it all in stride, and set out to complete their task safely and quickly.

“First, we’re making sure everything’s de-energized and grounded before we do anything.,” said Nolen. “Right now what we have is a secondary arm that’s split out, secondary wire pulled apart, and probably about six to eight houses that are out of power. So we’re fixing the wire, splicing it, and changing out the crossarms [so we can bring the power back on].”

Snowshoes and Snowcats

On the other side of Mount Watson, another Par Electric crew was assigned to a larger outage, impacting about 100 people in a residential area just outside Carnelian Bay.

Line foreman Dan Michael

“This is probably the worst snowstorm I’ve seen in a long while,” said Par Electric Crew Foreman Dave Michael.  “The biggest challenge here is definitely access. We’re on snowshoes and using snowcats [specialized trucks designed to move on snow], and they’re bringing in some helicopters for some of the poles we need to set.”

Michael and his crew were faced with trees in the line and a downed primary, and had to reframe the poles and change out several transformers before re-energizing that particular part of the circuit.

Second to None

Lineman Tim Holsey
Lineman Tim Holsey

Despite the freezing, wet, windy conditions, the crew from Par didn’t complain. It’s clear that they love what they do and appreciate being able to bring power back to the residents and tourists who were affected by the outages.

They were also happy and grateful to know that, even when the wind is blowing snow in their faces, the IBEW has their backs.

“I love the camaraderie we get with the union; the brotherhood is second to none,” said Nolen. “The communication is awesome, and the representation from the hall, [with the Business Rep] coming out here and making sure everybody’s safe and doing good, I really appreciate that.”

“I’m a third generation lineman, so I’m a pretty strong IBEW member,” said Michael. “My grandfather was in the union back in the late 1890s. My dad retired with over 40 years of service. I’m at 30 years myself. The retirement, the benefits and the quality of life are what I like most about [the union].”

Photos by John Storey

Cross post from IBEW Local 1245