Confessions of a weather public power geek

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I am a self-confessed weather geek.

When not on the swing set or throwing rocks in the dog’s water dish with my little girl, I can typically be found on the couch watching the Weather Channel. Daddy lives for his TorCon values this time of year. It drives my wife nuts.

And, yes, I was glued to the Weather Channel last Sunday. Gnarly storms were spitting out tornadoes 45 minutes south of Columbus.

My adrenaline was pumping as I watched live Doppler radar sweeps, upward velocity models and vertical slices of the storm from my La-Z-Boy. A little part of me wanted to hop in my truck and head to where all the action was. Then damage reports and photos started to come in…

Towns impacted.

Homes destroyed.

Power lines snapped like toothpicks.

Suddenly, I had a sobering flashback…

After my freshman year in college, a buddy hooked me up with a summer job working for Roosevelt Public Power District, a rural electric utility in western Nebraska. I was a greenhorn amongst a grizzly, veteran crew of five, and delegated to shoveling, trimming, sweeping and staying out of the way.

That all changed about three weeks in.

A rare, mid-day tornado tore through a rural subdivision west of Scottsbluff, erasing homes, stripping trees and chewing up more than four miles of power lines.

Within minutes, the Roosevelt crew was on the scene, diverting traffic from potential live wires and chasing off looky-loos.

I hopped in a truck with the district’s superintendent. My job was to keep count of poles, transformers and materials as he yelled them out. It was hard to stay focused on the task at hand. Never have I witnessed such devastation.

Calls from neighboring power districts offering assistance started pouring in over the broadband radio. Within an hour, crews from Nebraska Public Power District, Chimney Rock Public Power District and Wyrulec out of Torrington, Wyo. assembled and began the same arduous task as those who just lost their homes – rebuilding what Mother Nature had destroyed.

It was never said, but it was understood. Our hardhats weren’t coming off until power was restored.

I worked safely, side by side crews from other utilities. Running a chainsaw to clear debris. Assembling cross arms on new poles. Tamping them into the ground. Pulling new conductor.

I was no longer a greenhorn.

Day turned into night, then back into day. By 11 a.m, power was restored to the last customer without.

Flash forward to last Sunday. As I was glued to the TV, my wife asked me, “What’s going through your mind when you watch all this?”

I answered, “How this storm is going to affect people’s lives.”

As Nebraskans, we view those near and far as neighbors. Same holds true for the state’s public power utilities. We come together to help each other out in times of crisis.

We are neighbors serving neighbors.


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  1. Merwin Chambers says

    Your comment, “I answered, “How this storm is going to affect people’s lives.”” Is very profound. Something I will remember as I watch the weather reports. Thanks for the article.

  2. Donna Jaixen says

    Nice article. I witnessed a tornado miss my home by less than a 1/2 mile in 1998. It’s true – after seeing something like that, it’s not about how cool the sky is forming into a tornado, it’s about – God, please let everyone be safe and okay.

  3. says

    Great article Scott. I remember well my first tornado job as an apprentice lineman. It was in Gordon, Nebraska. The Supt. called and told me to pack for three days. Three weeks later we were still there. It was exciting and fun in the beginning, but that soon wore off and it turned into a whole lot of hard work. My second tornado hit Minatare, NE, where I was the Local NPPD Manager. I was home at the time, and it was way too close. Again, the recovery was a whole lot of hard work, and not much fun. Tornadoes may look cool on the weather channel, but they are bad, bad news when they hit populated areas. My third tornado hit about two blocks from our house in Kearney a few years ago, and it happened really fast. We take cover when the sirens sound.

    • Scott Margheim says

      Chris, I remember that tornado that hit Minatare. We could see it from our house in Mitchell.

      Thanks for commenting.

  4. Travis Hill says

    Great article! I grew up in Friend, just 10 miles south of Cordova and Beaver Crossing. It was pretty crazy watching these things sweep through my old stomping grounds. Days after the storms I saw friends posting their experiences on Facebook. The phrase, “neighbors helping neighbors” really hits the nail on the head. People came from all over the place to help out. It’s challenging times like these where you see people pull together in the storm of adversity, where it really makes you proud to be a Nebraskan.

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