Winds gusting to 77 mph roared through Southern California on Monday, flipping big rigs like toys, snapping power lines and tormenting sleepless residents with an overnight onslaught that caused mainly minor damage.
The high winds, produced by an unusual collision of whirling pressure systems, prompted authorities to close two key freeways - a 20-mile stretch of Interstate 15 and 128 miles of Interstate 10 from Indio to the Arizona border.
The unusual conditions also created oddly chaotic air all over the region - revealing gorgeous mountain views even as motorists dodged flying debris. Discarded Christmas trees skittered like tumbleweeds.
“It’s like one big sandstorm,” said California Highway Patrol officer Tami Low. “Wear goggles. It’s pretty bad.”
A two-story house under construction collapsed in Altadena. “We saw it swaying back and forth. And my husband said, ‘Oh, it won’t go down.’ He has a lot of confidence in it since he’s the contractor. But it went over,” Mattie Dawn said.
In a rare move, authorities recommended that drivers of campers and big rigs stay off freeways throughout the entire Los Angeles region - a precaution usually limited to canyons and mountain passes.
At least nine trucks were reported overturned on Interstate 15 and five more had flipped on Interstate 10, the highway patrol said. No one was injured seriously.
One rig crushed a highway patrol cruiser on I-15.
“The wind was blowing pretty good. An empty trailer came alongside and I saw it start to go over. I just lay down on the seat. It was amazing, really,” officer Maren Joslin said.
An estimated 280,000 homes and businesses were at least temporarily without electricity. By late Monday afternoon, more than 50,000 remained without power.
Winds were so strong in some areas that entire rows of utility poles were blown out of the ground.
Reporters covering the O.J. Simpson trial worked in the wind after the media tent toppled. No one was hurt.
Meteorologist Jon Erdman said the winds were caused when a high-pressure system over Northern California met a low-pressure system south of Arizona. The clockwise winds from the high-pressure system combined with the counterclockwise winds from the low-pressure system “like an eggbeater with two blades that rotate and come together at the middle,” Erdman said.
“California sits right where the blades come together.”