Rare lightning storm knocks out power in Juneau

Strike caused overwhelming electrical surge.

All of Juneau lost power for just over an hour Sunday, following a rare thunderstorm in the area.

Lightning struck near Alaska Electric Light and Power’s Thane substation at about 2:20 p.m. causing a power outage, according to the company.

AEL&P crews began working immediately, and power was restored to the over 17,000 customers in the Juneau area about an hour later.

“The system worked as it was designed to,” AEL&P vice president and director of consumer affairs Debbie F. Driscoll told the Empire by phone. Driscoll said that none of the company’s equipment was damaged but that a lightning strike creates a power surge.

“It’s more than the system can handle,” she said.

Electrical systems are designed to handle power surges but it takes time to reboot the system once power has been shut down. Driscoll said that two employees reported seeing lightning strikes near the Thane substation. One employee was stationed at the substation itself, while another was off duty and saw the strike from a boat.

“With two visual confirmations, we felt confident that the lightning strike was indeed the culprit of the outage,” Driscoll wrote in an email.

Thunderstorms are rare in Juneau, and Driscoll said that in her 10 years with AEL&P, she could not recall an outage being caused by lightening.

Why are thunderstorms so rare in Juneau?

Accroding to Daniel Hartsock, a meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Juneau, thunderstorms are caused in part by the fast movement of air upwards. Because of Juneau’s cool marine environment, that doesn’t happen very often.

“Our marine environment is rather stable,” he said. “Temperature is one of the big ingredients. With cooler land and water temperature, the ability of a thunderstorm to develop and move over Juneau doesn’t happen very often.”

Hartsock said that during the storm, warm air coming from the south met with colder air coming in the the northwest, which caused the warm air to rise, creating the conditions necessary for a thunderstorm.

With lightning being such a rare occurrence, Driscoll said, all of AEL&P’s employees were ready for action.

”When something like this happens, it’s all hands on deck,” she said.

Contact reporter Peter Segall at 523-2228 or psegall@juneauempire.com.

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