Gone with the wind

Storm snaps trees, causes power outages

Posted: Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Even a light pole in the Froso's restaurant parking lot couldn't withstand the winds Sunday.

Winds as strong as 46 miles per hour kept central Kenai Peninsula firefighters busy as trees toppled over, taking out power lines and leaving many residents without electricity.

In Soldotna, the wind pushed the light pole over, sending it crashing onto cars.

"The wind sheered off two of the bolts and it came crashing down," said Gary Hale, fire marshal for Central Emergency Services. "It fell onto at least two cars."

Firefighters said damage to the vehicles didn't appear significant, and Hale said when he drove by the restaurant later in the day the pole was lifted off the cars, most of the debris had been removed, and the cars were gone.

CES also responded to at least six calls of downed trees, forcing firefighters and Homer Electric Association officials to shut power off.

"These were live spruce trees," Hale said. "Some of the trees are rotted at the base and up to the middle, which never shows. You'll never know if a tree is going to fall until after it falls."

One tree fell on a service line at a Windsong Circle residence, cutting power to the house. Though the power was out, the wire was so firefighters called HEA to power down the line.

"It was windier than usual to have this many trees fall down," Hale said.

Winds on the peninsula reached 31 mph in Soldotna and 46 in Kenai. Todd Foisy, a National Weather Service forecaster, said winds typically kick up around August and gather strength closer to the coast.

"A cold front moved up Cook Inlet from the Southwest, and it just got really windy," he said. "It was quite a bit windier in Kenai than it was in Homer and along points that jet out in Cook Inlet. Strongest winds were in Cook Inlet."

On average, Alaska's windiest weather occurs in the Aleutian Islands and Bering Sea, where most of the strong low pressure systems lie, Foisy said. The Gulf of Alaska comes in a close second with storms often sending hurricane-force winds through narrow passes like Turnagain Arm, which acts as a wind tunnel.

"The low-pressure systems have weakened significantly by the time they reach the Kenai Peninsula," Foisy said. "Most of the strongest winds are in those challenged areas with the obvious exception of mountain tops, but nobody lives up there."

HEA spokesman Joe Gallagher said power outages were scattered throughout Nikiski, Kenai and Soldotna, but the majority of calls came from the area where the wind was the strongest.

"From what we saw, the calls started coming in just as the winds picked up around 2:30 Sunday afternoon," Gallagher said.

HEA crews worked through the night, finishing up at 6:15 a.m. Monday. Power was restored to the entire area by 6:30 a.m., he said.

"Wind is probably one of the main causes of power outages on the Kenai Peninsula," Gallagher said. "When it blows like it did yesterday, it's almost guaranteed there are going to be power outages."

The Kenai and Nikiski fire departments only responded to a few wind-related calls.

Kenai Capt. James Dye said a tree fell onto a power line in the neighborhood of Lawton Drive and Walker Lane.

"(Firefighters) secured the area," Dye said. "Basically they made sure no power lines came down on top of any other."

Acting Nikiski chief Dan Gregory said only two calls of downed power lines came in Sunday.

"The winds weren't really that bad," he said.

Jessica Cejnar can be reached at jessica.cejnar@peninsulaclarion.com.

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