Like many other events in northwest Kansas, Hays Area Chamber of Commerce’s highly anticipated Chamber Awards Banquet was forced into postponement due to weather conditions Tuesday.
The yearly gathering features a social hour, dinner and award program in which individuals are recognized for excellent business success and accomplishment.
When the worst of the winter storm was thought to be finished Tuesday morning, organizers made the decision to keep the event going, despite the fact schools, businesses and Fort Hays State University had shut down for the day.
Snow accumulations and wind gusts picked up Tuesday afternoon, however, and confidence in keeping the banquet going quickly dwindled as electricity was lost in several areas of the county.
At one point, roughly 7,600 customers were without power in Ellis County, according to Mike Morley, manager of corporate communications at Midwest Energy.
“It was kind of a wild afternoon for outages today,” Morley said Tuesday evening. “This morning, when there was no wind, everything was fine. It wasn’t until the wind picked up in the afternoon and the temperature dropped that problems began to occur.”
Morley said due to the conditions, snow that had stuck to the power lines turned to thick ice, and as the wet, heavy precipitation continued to fall, it just compounded the problem.
“Those lines get really heavy, and with the wind, they whip up and down,” Morley said. “The tree branches were impacting things as well.”
Around 6 p.m. Tuesday, Morley said they were down to approximately 139 still left without power and would continue to work through the night to ensure electricity was restored.
“If it would have been snowing like that when I had to make the first decision, without a doubt, we would have canceled,” said Hays Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Tammy Wellbrock.
At approximately 3 p.m., the final decision to postpone the banquet was based on a conversation with Edie McCracken, FHSU’s Memorial Union director, regarding the use of the backup generators that were being used at the time.
“They had to consider their planning to operate the rest of campus,” Wellbrock said. “If the power wasn’t going to come back on, they were going to have to put all their resources available to continue operating residence halls, as well as the campus police.”
Unfortunately, almost all the banquet preparation had been completed, so many involved were disappointed when cancellation was inevitable.
“We were completely ready,” Wellbrock said. “We were set up from the brochures to the flowers.”
Kim Barnes, catering director with Chartwells Catering, said her crew began preparing Monday — setting up tables, polishing wine glasses and more.
“I came in at 5:30 this morning,” she said Tuesday. “We were here all day setting up, and when the power started to flicker and go out, a decision had to be made because cooking was becoming a concern.”
The catering crew worked for several hours Tuesday night breaking everything down and cleaning up, and the food, which had been prepared for an anticipated crowd of approximately 400 people, did not go to waste.
“They are taking it all over to McMindes Hall, and they are going to finish cooking it there,” Barnes said. “It will be their supper in the residence hall tonight, so they’ll have London Broil and creme brulee.”
The banquet has been postponed to Feb. 28 with the same times — a social hour beginning at 5:30 p.m., followed by dinner at 7 p.m., with the award ceremony to conclude the event.
Wellbrock said she understands there will be people unable to attend on the rescheduled date, and she hopes most guests will be understanding of the circumstances.
“As a nonprofit, we are really hoping our guests will understand the magnitude of this event being postponed, financially, as well as resource-wise,” Wellbrock said. “We are asking them to please try to take care of their own tickets. If they can’t attend on the new date, we hope they can take care of replacements.”