• Last modified 1244 days ago (Feb. 18, 2021)


Blackouts, record cold hit county

Staff writer

Mike and Sharon Sorensen woke up Tuesday to the smell of smoke an hour after the motor on their stove quit.

The pellets were burning, but the fan had kicked off. The power was out.

The Sorensens, along with many of Evergy’s customers in northern Marion County, began their Tuesday amid rolling blackouts implemented to save power during high demand and record cold.

“We knew what it was, so we got up and put the fire out,” said Sharon Sorensen, chuckling. “What’s bad is not having heat.”

The Sorensens’ phone began to ring as many in Durham sought answers from Mike, who is the town’s mayor.

‘You are the first caller that I have been able to answer where somebody was there,” she said. “I have no idea what the deal is with that. You can just count on it, when it’s cold — on things being off.”

Tampa mayor Tim Svoboda said he was “surviving” at Agri-Trails Coop in Durham after driving to work in -15 temperatures.

“No one gets gas right now. That’s not good,” he said. “They said it would be about ½ hour or so. It has not quite been an hour yet. Pretty close. If it’s not back on in the next 15 minutes, I’ll holler at somebody.”

Curtis Frick, location manager in Durham, ran home to put on a generator so his furnace would run.

“I have put more clothes on, but the sun is shining and I am glad I am near a window,” he said.

Sources in Tampa and Durham reported power back on at 10:20 a.m. Tuesday, an outage of an hour and 40 minutes.

Record low temperatures of -16 Monday night and -6 Tuesday have forced many utility customers to use nearly a month’s worth of heat, boosting demands on the power grid.

The county is set to tie a record for the coldest winter it has seen in more than 38 years after an 11-day streak of freezing weather that is expected to linger through the end of the week.

Last year in Marion County, temperatures never plunged below zero. This year, Marion Reservoir for the first time in years after consecutive days of subzero weather, assistant lake manager Kevin McCoy said.

“As far as I know there is zero open water,” he said. “Its 100% frozen. We have seen nothing as far as any waves or wave action.”

Gina Penzig, manager of external communications for Evergy said she could not give any answers about the possible location or timing of future blackouts, but said 100,000 of the company’s customers had been affected.

Evergy said Tuesday evening there is still extreme stress on the system and cautioned that it still may be asked to implement power outages.

Penzig confirmed representatives had spoken to several of Evergy’s large industrial commercial customers Tuesday to see if they would consider reducing operations to alleviate stress on the power grid.

KayLeah Kukuk, office manager for Marion Manufacturing Inc., said she is not aware of anyone from Evergy reaching out to them.

However, they did receive an email appeal from Atmos Energy at 10 a.m. Tuesday that asked its “industrial size business customers” to reduce consumption.

The letter, from Jennifer Altieri, Atmos Energy’s vice president of public affairs, asked “large consumers of electricity” to consider shutting down or reducing non-essential production to conserve power.

“Clearly we’re still working,” said Kukuk who said things were running as smoothly as possible, despite the absence of employees dealing with frozen pipes or trucks that wouldn’t start.

“We are running as full as we can,” she said.

Business also was brisk at Co-Ag Propane in Hillsboro with sales 30% above normal for the month, office manager Kathleen Kraus said.

Jenna Dickerson, sales specialist, said the influx of order began in anticipation of bad weather and picked up as temperatures fell.

“People are going through it,” she said. “These old farm houses don’t have the widows or insulation many homes have.”

District superintendents at all five of the county’s school districts canceled classes and activities Tuesday.

Hillsboro and Peabody students will resume classes today. Marion middle and high school students will learn remotely today. However, classes for Marion elementary students are still canceled, as are those for Centre’s schools.

A forecaster with the National Weather Service in Wichita said there is hope for warmer weather this week.

After Thursday, temperatures are expected to rise to 22 degrees, with sunshine.

“Get out the shorts right?” said forecaster Robb Lawson,

Last modified Feb. 18, 2021