Yukon left thunderstruck

Northern Yukon communities have been crippled by lightning strikes over the past couple of days. Both Yukon Energy and Northwestel were hit, causing long power outages.

Northern Yukon communities have been crippled by lightning strikes over the past couple of days.

Both Yukon Energy and Northwestel were hit, causing long power outages and leaving Dawson, Mayo and Keno incommunicado – without long-distance calls, internet or cellphones.

It also knocked out debit and credit card machines.

Most of the damage wasn’t repaired until late yesterday afternoon.

“It’s interesting – and I guess it’s climate change – but we’re finding that in recent years we’re having more and more issues with lightning,” said Yukon Energy spokesperson Janet Patterson.

“The last couple of years in particular.”

The first sign of trouble occurred Sunday, at 3:43 p.m., when a lightning strike knocked out the Mayo-Dawson line.

Power was quickly restored in most of Dawson, but the Hunker Creek industrial area was dark for more than four hours.

Mayo, Keno and Elsa also took longer to be restored, because Mayo’s backup diesel generators refused to work.

Power wasn’t restored in Elsa, Keno and the Alexco mine until 9:20 p.m.

It wasn’t just the Mayo generators that experienced technical difficulties.

Yukon Energy is still working out the kinks on its Carmacks-Stewart line.

A technician had to travel to Stewart Crossing to manually close a breaker.

Then at 4:05 p.m. on Monday, there was another lightning strike, on a line between Stewart Crossing and the Minto mine.

It caused an outage throughout the entire northern region of the newly unified electric grid.

There were also outages in Porter Creek, Crestview and McPherson subdivisions in Whitehorse.

The power was back up in a few minutes in Whitehorse, Minto and Dawson.

Both Minto and Dawson switched to diesel generators.

Dawson has been on diesel for the past two days, left “islanded” from the grid, because Yukon Energy expected more lightning strikes.

This proved to be prudent – as there was a third strike at 6:36 p.m.

Again, communities outside Dawson didn’t fare so well.

Mayo, Keno and Elsa were without power for two and a half hours.

The power was restored for 20 minutes, and then the second lightning strike brought it down again.

Power was restored a second time at 6:56 p.m.

On Tuesday morning, it was Northwestel’s turn.

At 3:30 a.m. a microwave tower near Stewart Crossing went down.

This left Dawson, Mayo and Keno without long distance, cellphone or internet service.

All the power outages played a part in the outage, but lightning was also involved.

Crews had to be sent from Whitehorse to cover for the vacationing Dawson technician.

They arrived at 3 p.m., nearly 12 hours after communications went down.

The problem was worse than expected.

When the power went out, the site’s air conditioners shut off.

The backup generators also failed. Again, lightning is being blamed.

Without the air conditioning units, the building overheated.

Technician’s restored most long-distance and cellular service by 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday.

One gizmo that handles the region’s internet traffic was severely damaged. But technicians routed the connection through another gadget, restoring internet to Dawson at 4:45 p.m.

Internet services to Mayo, Keno and Stewart Crossing were restored shortly after 7 p.m.

Wednesday morning, cell service in Stewart Crossing remained down.

Northwestel has a helicopter on standby to fly replacement parts to its microwave tower in Stewart Crossing, if needed.

Contact Chris Oke at

chriso@yukon-news.com