With winter comes snowstorms, and with normal snowstorms come power outages and emergency work for the tens of thousands of IBEW lineworkers. Even a few inches of snow and ice can knock out power for hundreds of thousands of people.

Local 1245 member and line foreman Dan Michael.

Lake Tahoe, Calif., received more than 23 feet of snowfall in January.

Three feet fell in a single day. Since the ski season began in November, resorts ringing the azure blue lake in the Sierra Nevada mountains have received more than 30 feet of snow.

For skiers who could get there, the snow was almost miraculous, a story they will long remember. For the members of Vacaville Local 1245 responsible for maintaining PG&E, Nevada Energy Liberty Energy’s power grids, the memories won’t be of endless runs on downy powder.

January was the month snowdrifts the size of buildings couldn’t keep the power off in the Sierra Nevadas.  

“After half a decade of drought, it felt like we got five years of snow over the course of three weeks,” said Local Vacaville 1245 Business Manager Tom Dalzell. “We have plenty of members with more than 30 years on the job, and few of them can recall so much snow in such a short period of time.”

There were tens of thousands of outages in the Lake Tahoe valley, but the storms didn’t just hit the Sierra Nevadas. At lower elevations, from the Bay Area to the foothills east of Sacramento, all that snow fell as rain, and high winds knocked down thousands of poles.

“There were a sea of outages, from the coast all the way out past the mountains,” said Dalzell. “We had upwards of 1,000 IBEW members involved in the restoration effort. We had our utility members of course, including lineworkers, along with clerical, warehouse, supply and maintenance people supporting them. We also have a number of our outside line members who were brought in to help out as well. “

Dalzell said the outages outside the mountains were repaired within “minutes to hours” but in the Sierras and Lake Tahoe, it was a different story.

“If we could get to you easily, we could bring the power back quickly. But if you lived up in the mountains, and it was more of a challenge, because of road blockages, downed trees and snowdrifts. Many of the crews had to use snowcats (specialized trucks designed to move on snow) and snowshoes, as well as helicopters.”

Liberty called more than a dozen Local 1245 line crews from Par Electric, Titan, and Summit Line to get the power back on.

“This is probably the worst snowstorm I’ve seen in a long while,” said Par Electric Crew Foreman Dan Michael to Local 1245’s Utility Reporter.  “The biggest challenge here is definitely access. We’re on snowshoes and using snowcats, and they’re bringing in some helicopters for some of the poles we need to set.”

Michael and his crew were faced with trees on the line and a downed primary and had to rebuild the poles and change out several transformers before turning the power back on.

“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].”

Local 1245 member and line foreman Russ Nolen.
Vacaville Local 1245 apprentice Reige Mize in snowshoes helping restore power in Lake Tahoe after 23 feet of snow fell in three weeks in January.


Photo credit: Photos by John Storey, courtesy of Local 1245.