BUTTE, MT - What's the worst-case scenario for us living through a severe weather event?

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Imagine our beloved Copper City on any normal day in the winter—and I don't mean winter proper, so pretty much anytime between October and June. Montana, amirite? Anyway, you wake up, look outside your window, and notice that the clouds are a little darker and thicker than usual. Visibility is low, and it starts to dawn on you that you have to traverse Homestake Pass to get to work. You go to grab your phone to check if the pass is still open, but your phone doesn't turn on. Huh? How? You had it plugged in, you know it wasn't that low on battery, so what gives?

That's when it hits you: your place is cold, your wall clock's hands aren't moving, and you hear nothing but the creeping silence. The power is out. Well, you start to rationalize, there's nothing to worry about. They'll get the power back on, worst case a day or two like that outage in 2019. No biggie.

You don't know it yet, but the storm was so severe that power grids across the entire state are completely taken out and power won't be back on for weeks. Though you have some food left, a few water bottles stashed away, and a working vehicle, you have no idea that the very fabric of our society has been upturned—leaving you and your neighbors on their own.

How would a prolonged power outage impact water and food resources? How would the hospital continue to operate? What are some of the hidden variables that are most affected? How would people react? What would happen to Butte? And how can we prepare?

In this hypothetical scenario, I explore what would happen to Butte, MT in a prolonged, unexpected power outage due to a severe weather storm. I utilized information from here, here, and here to construct a narrative to help us understand something that is, unfortunately, quite possible, and how you can prepare for such a situation.

The Immediate Aftermath

The storm starts to subside, but the snow is still coming down. After putting on some warm clothing, you walk outside to assess the situation. You have a view of the East Ridge and you see that it is completely covered by clouds and snow. The pass is probably closed, you think, but you have no way to know for sure. Maybe my neighbors have power?

You get in your car and go for a drive around town. You see people standing outside their homes, just as confused, talking amongst each other and trying to figure out what's going on. Further down the road, you see the aftermath of a vehicle that skidded into the back of another, and though it was nothing extremely serious, the inhabitants of both vehicles stand outside on the road and are visibly scared and hostile towards one another. You ask yourself, why? Just call the police. You go to call them yourself, but as the call starts, you hear an automated voice saying, "All circuits are busy, please try again later." Fear starts to set in.

On a wider scale, authorities and emergency services begin to scramble and utilize their training to amend the situation the best they can. At the hospital, police and fire stations, and cell towers, the backup generators/batteries kick on, giving the facilities a few extra days of power. However, as they know, the power provided by generators are not unlimited.

A few days down the line...

Within the first two to three days, grocery stores face a rush of people stocking up on non-perishable goods. Without power, refrigeration systems fail, leading to spoilage of perishable foods, along with medication that requires colder temps. Then, within a week, shelves are empty and restocking becomes impossible due to the transportation blockade and confirmed closure of the pass.

Butte's water, primarily sourced from the Basin Creek Reservoir and treated at the water treatment plant, faces immense challenges. Without electricity, the treatment plant's operations are compromised and begin to fail. Backup generators can provide temporary relief, but fuel shortages soon become a critical issue. For you, this looks like—being home from days off of work—you standing up to go get a cup of water from the tap and nothing coming out.

Being without a reliable food and water source, Butte's citizens begin to panic, especially those who are more unprepared than others. Small communities, usually close neighbors and friends, begin to form in isolated patches. At this point, residents have to turn to bottled water, rationing, and bartering with one another, while authorities prioritize maintaining basic water sanitation to prevent disease outbreaks.

Social Dynamics and Community Response

Within the first week or so, the community continues to band together. Neighbors help each other, sharing resources and information, and utilize their strengths to help those who need it. Churches, community centers, and schools become shelters and distribution points for aid. Social bonds strengthen as people rely on each other now more than ever before. You even feel a slight emotion of excitement, as you hang out with new friends, stargaze at the beautiful night sky, and share a camaraderie with those around you.

As the days turn into weeks, though, stress and anxiety begin to take their toll. With communication lines down, rumors and panic spread quickly, leading to fear and tension. The prolonged isolation caused by the closure of Homestake Pass only heightens these feelings. Local authorities and community leaders work tirelessly to maintain order and morale, but the strain is evident. However, Butte would probably be better off in this area, as Butte's residents are known for their strong sense of community and willingness to come together to face the crisis as a unit. So there's hope there!

The State of Healthcare

St. James Hospital, after managing to run for days on end, begins to fail. Backup generators keep critical functions running, but fuel supplies are limited. Elective procedures are postponed indefinitely, and the hospital prioritizes emergency care. The influx of patients with injuries from the storm, combined with those suffering from chronic conditions requiring regular treatment, stretches resources thin. Tragically, the death toll starts to rise.

Staff shortages become a significant issue as medical professionals struggle to reach the hospital. The community rallies to support the healthcare workers, but the situation remains precarious. Without power, electronic medical records are inaccessible, complicating patient care and planning.

One other drastic and disgusting situation arises. You're walking down the street to meet with your neighbor, as you do every day to discuss plans, and you smell a wretched, vomit-inducing stench. Raw sewage has overflowed in the streets due to the prolonged outage and its effect on water treatment facilities, causing a widespread health emergency. Nearby rivers and lakes experience raw sewage being dumped into their waters as well.

After the second week...

Butte’s strong sense of community plays a crucial role in maintaining order. While there are isolated incidents of looting and civil unrest, they are quickly contained by local law enforcement and community patrols. The shared crisis develops a sense of solidarity with one another, with most residents understanding that cooperation is essential for survival.

Food and water are extremely scarce, though the snow has provided a water source for most who know how to boil it. You are almost certainly out of food, and your sources to get more are dwindling fast. Don't forget your dog(s), cat(s), and other pets: they need food and water too. During this stressful period, they feel the effects too, with some breaking loose to scavenge for themselves.

As the crisis drags on, the strain on mental health becomes apparent. Anxiety, depression, and stress-related illnesses increase, and without power, access to mental health services is severely limited. Community support groups and counseling services attempt to fill the gap, but the demand far exceeds the available resources. You also rarely get a cell phone signal, let alone the ability to make a call, and you—like most around you—become restless and dragged down by hopelessness.


After three weeks, you are tired. An understatement, really. You have heard of federal assistance coming in through the grapevine, but more major, populated cities have been assisted first. Promises have been made that power will be on soon. You don't believe them anymore. The storm has long since passed, but its ferocity is still being felt and dealt with every moment of every day.

Sitting in your living room at noon one long day, reading a book, you hear a neighbor scream. Wait a second...that almost sounded like a scream of joy. Suddenly, your overhead light snaps on as if it were never off. Overwhelming happiness overtakes you. Though there is a long road ahead to return to where things once were, the worst of the crisis is over.

The resolution of a weeks-long power outage would involve a multifaceted approach, combining coordinated efforts from the community and authorities from local, state, and federal agencies to overcome the seemingly-unreal challenges and restore a sense of normalcy. Future damage assessments calculate dozens of deaths, millions of dollars in infrastructure damage, and a community that's battered, bruised, and shaken—all caused by a prolonged power outage. By learning from the crisis and implementing stronger infrastructure and preparedness measures, Butte can emerge more resilient and better equipped to handle future emergencies.

How you can prepare for the worst

Preparation is key to mitigating the impact of such a disaster. Here are some steps you and our authorities can take:

1. Emergency Kits

Every household should have an emergency kit with non-perishable food, bottled water, medications, batteries, and other essentials to last at least two weeks. It is important to understand that not everyone will be as prepared as you, so expecting to rely on others can prove costly.

2. Community Plans

Developing community-wide emergency response plans can ensure coordinated efforts and ease the suffering. Designating specific locations such as shelters and supply distribution points is crucial, while the community maintains order to lengthen their usage.

3. Alternative Energy Sources

Investing in solar panels, wind turbines, and other renewable energy sources can provide a sustainable backup in case of power outages. Even solar-powered generators can prove to be a massive advantage for individuals.

4. Water and Food Storage

Very straightforward: invest in water storage containers and a supply of water bottles, while stashing away non-perishables such as canned food. Remember to stock up for your pup, cat, or animal, too.

5. Communication Strategies

Setting up alternative communication networks, such as ham radios and satellite phones, can ensure information flow even when traditional channels fail. Hopefully, we here at the station will be able to provide broadcast services in a prolonged crisis.


The hypothetical scenario of Butte, MT losing power for weeks is daunting, but it also highlights the resilience and strength of the community. While the challenges are immense, with proper preparation and a strong sense of solidarity, Butte can—and would—weather the storm.

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