A quick winter windstorm with gusts of more than 50 mph battered central Puget Sound on Sunday morning, downing Douglas fir trees, snapping power poles and leaving more than a quarter-million people without power by dawn.
Some power outages could linger.
“We know it’s difficult to be without power, especially on cold winter days,” said Puget Sound Energy spokesman Andrew Padula. “We’re working as quickly and safely as possible.”
PSE reported about 220,000 customers without power Sunday morning. By Sunday afternoon, about 147,000 customers were still experiencing outages.
Falling trees crashed onto cars near Enumclaw. The garage of a family who had lost power in Covington caught fire because of an unattended candle, said Kyle Ohashi of the Kent Regional Fire Authority. A power outage was blamed for a nationwide ground stop of flights on Seattle-based Alaska Airlines. Some 27 flights were delayed and five were canceled Sunday morning, the Associated Press reported. And in Seward Park, people stopped to see the spectacle of an old Douglas fir, toppled, split open, parts of it dipping into Lake Washington.
Scott Thomsen, spokesman for Seattle City Light, said about 50,000 customers lost power. By Sunday afternoon, about 6,500 customers remained in the dark.
Most of the damage, Thomsen said, was from high winds “knocking off trees, or breaking big sections off into power lines or snapping the poles.” Some outages could last into Monday, he said.
So many people were trying to view PSE’s outage map Sunday morning that the utility’s web application crashed, Padula said.
Padula said PSE was using helicopters to survey damage because fallen trees had blocked roads in some rural areas. Utility crews from other parts of Washington would be coming to assist PSE in the cleanup, he said.
Utilities began gearing up for the windstorm Saturday night, after the National Weather Service upgraded its wind advisory to a warning.
“We started getting crews set up to be in place for as soon as the winds died down enough to be working safely,” Thomsen said.
Furious gusts, which topped out at 60 mph in areas of central Puget Sound, began to hit just after 1 a.m.
“That gave us a burst of south winds as the storm continued to move north along the I-5 corridor,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Jeff Michalski. “It was a quick burst of one to two hours of high wind, and then it was gone.”
Wind measurements at the Highway 520 bridge in Seattle rose from zero to 45 mph in less than an hour. By 4 a.m., the storm had passed through and the weather service lifted high-wind warnings.
The strongest winds in the Puget Sound were recorded near the water, Michalski said.
The weather service warned people to avoid downed power lines because they may remain energized. Also, people should not use gas stoves for heat or fire up barbecues or generators indoors, because they can produce deadly levels of carbon monoxide.
After a brief interlude of clearing Monday, more storms will be moving into the area Tuesday and Wednesday, with possible high winds in the Cascade foothills, Michalski said.
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