Transformers exploded, trees smoldered and power to street lights, homes, businesses and even the phone lines at Taos Central Dispatch was lost Tuesday afternoon (Oct. 12) as rainy weather turned into the first snow of the season in Taos.
Many areas of Taos County experienced outages, with large swaths of the town, El Prado, Ranchos de Taos, Questa, Peñasco and Taos Pueblo all reporting power outages.
Temperatures in Taos County stayed right at or just above freezing on Tuesday as snow began to fall, contrary to many weather predictions that had only called for rain. Kit Carson Electric Chief Executive Officer Luis Reyes said the wet snow that fell caused tree branches to sag, snap and fall onto power lines, leading to the widespread outages.
“Most of the outages that we responded to are trees on lines," he said. "The weight of heavy snow on leaves causes branches to come in contact with the power lines."
He said "99 percent" of power was restored by 8 p.m. Tuesday night.
“KCEC had all crews and supervisors work through the night to get power restored,” said Reyes in an email Wednesday morning. “No one went home until power was restored.” KCEC crews remained around town doing cleanup throughout the day. As of press time, he said “99 percent” of power to the area was restored.
But several areas of the town still remained without power Wednesday morning (Oct. 13). Around mid-morning, a dispatcher relayed a report of another blown transformer (on Padre Martinez Lane) on emergency radio channels.
Similar reports were heard on police scanners one after another as snow began to accumulate Tuesday afternoon. The first incident was reported around 3 p.m. near the Laughing Horse Gallery, located on Paseo del Pueblo Norte, a couple blocks north of Cid's. First responders reported that a tree was "smoldering," but said they couldn't take action to put it out until workers from Kit Carson Electric cut power to the lines in the area connected to the transformer.
Two more transformers reportedly exploded shortly after, including one across from McDonald's and another on Montoya Street, according to reports on emergency radio channels.
Traffic lights also went out at the intersection of Este Es Road and Paseo del Pueblo Sur and in another location on Salazar Road.
Taos Plaza also lost power around 3:30 p.m.
Dispatchers stated that Taos Central Dispatch, located in the Taos County Courthouse Complex, had also lost phone service, which they utilize along with radios to communicate with the public.
In a lighter moment, a dispatcher reported that a driver of a Ford F-150 was enjoying the snowfall by doing donuts in a local parking lot.
Trucks and workers with the local electric cooperative could be seen all over town, working at the base of electric poles and working on lines aboard cherry pickers.
Richard Martinez, chief operating officer for KCEC, said he hadn’t seen snow do this much damage in “maybe five or six years."
When asked how the problem could be prevented in the future, he said if landowners were more flexible in allowing KCEC to cut trees near power lines, the issue could be mitigated. "Consumers allowing us to to do more trimming in some of those areas would really help," he said.
Taos saw an earlier start to its snow season this year compared to last.
In 2020, the first major snowfall in Taos County came on Oct. 26, which saw accumulation of 4-10 inches of snow, but there were no widespread power outages like were seen this week.