Employees Safe After Tornado Hits Dry Fork Coal Plant in Wyoming

Employees at Basin Electric Power Cooperative’s 385-MW coal-fired Dry Fork Station are all safe after a tornado touched down at the plant’s site in Gillette, Wyoming, on June 1.

The company described the harrowing hour before and after the tornado hit the plant and surrounding area. Though the plant “mostly avoided damage,” employee safety protocol ensured everyone was sheltering in place within four minutes of activating the alarm, it said.

Outside the Transmission System Maintenance shop near Dry Fork Station, workers found a tanker semi-trailer on top of a wood chipper, which was on top of a flatbed trailer. Four tornadoes touched down in Campbell County, Wyoming, on June 1. Courtesy: Basin Electric

Outside the Transmission System Maintenance shop near Dry Fork Station, workers found a tanker semi-trailer on top of a wood chipper, which was on a flatbed trailer. Four tornadoes touched down in Campbell County, Wyoming, on June 1. Courtesy: Basin Electric

Severe storm and tornado warnings were issued for Campbell Country at 1:40 p.m. (MDT), and four tornadoes ultimately ravaged nearby homes and businesses.

At Dry Fork, all employees and contractors—53 people in total—were immediately called indoors and asked to remain alert of the approaching storm, Basin Electric said on June 6.

Two minutes later, the facility tripped due to system disturbance—“likely nearby transmission lines connected to the plant damaged by the storm,” it said. Within 20 minutes, the plant received an alert that a tornado had touched down about five miles from the facility. An alarm was sounded at the plant, prompting employees to quickly move to one of three indoor shelter locations.

KOTA Territory News posted a video on Facebook of the tornado touching down in the TSM shop’s yard.

The tornado hit the plant at 2:06 p.m.—26 minutes after the ordeal began. A minute later, Dry Fork went black, as power from the switchyard to the plant was tripped off. “The sudden black plant caused no major damage,” the company said.

Eventually, at about 2:30 p.m., employees were given the all clear.

The plant was brought back online the next morning, on June 2. Plant facilities sustained no serious damage, though “property fared slightly worse” at the nearby Transmission System Maintenance (TSM) shop.

Plant manager Tom Stalcup noted that Ashley Fraser, senior safety coordinator, notified plant workers of the approaching danger, and “they were paying attention to the alarm system.”

At the TSM, employees onsite were scrambling to move equipment indoors when the tornado hit. “It hit so fast and so hard. I got a call from the public asking if we were in a tornado, so I looked out my window and everything was airborne and swirling, and I knew we were in one,” said Thomas Nozicka, TSM fleet maintenance supervisor.

Employees at the plant and TSM have had severe weather drills, but “the tornado brought to light the significance of those drills and the importance of getting everyone on the same page during emergencies,” Basin Electric said.  “Nozicka said one ripple effect is the planned implementation of available technology throughout TSM to help provide employees more advance warning.”

“As long as no one got hurt we can replace the property, but we were very, very lucky,” Nozicka said. “It was a learning experience for everybody there. You can’t stop these types of things, but you can be better prepared for them.”

For more, see Basin Electric’s harrowing timeline of the incident here: “Employee safety the focus after tornado damage at Dry Fork Station, TSM.”

—Sonal Patel is a POWER associate editor (@sonalcpatel, @POWERmagazine)