World

U.S. West hit by high winds

Powerful winds tore across a number of U.S. western states, leaving a path destruction that closed schools, left neighborhoods with a snarl of downed trees and power lines, and prompted some communities to declare emergencies
A worker looks at a crushed car with the stump of the tree that fell on it and a broken light pole in the background in Ogden, Utah after a wind storm on Thursday. (Robert Johnson/Standard-Examiner/Associated Press)

Several overturned semis on a Utah highway. Hundreds of thousands without power in California. A wind gust reaching 200 km/h in Colorado.

The powerful winds that tore across Western states Thursday created a path destruction that closed schools, left neighborhoods with a snarl of downed trees and power lines, and prompted some communities to declare emergencies.

The storms, described as a once-in-a-decade event, were the result of a dramatic difference in pressure between a strong, high-pressure system and a cold, low-pressure system, meteorologists said. This funnels strong winds down mountain canyons and slopes.

The system brought high wind warnings and advisories for California, Utah, Nevada, Wyoming, Arizona and New Mexico. The blustery weather is expected to eventually hit Oklahoma, Missouri and Indiana.

A van parked in the Highland Park section of Los Angeles and another car are shown damaged by fallen trees on Thursday as high winds up to 100 km/h tore through southern California. (Mike Meadows/Associated Press)

The violent winds eased but strong gusts still blew through the region Thursday night, at times reaching 100 km/h in some California mountains. Forecasters said the winds would continue to diminish through Friday.

The winds were fanning fires in northern California.

The Sacramento Bee reported that as of Thursday evening, seven fires had burned more than 50 hectares in El Dorado County. Five fires had also burned more than 100 hectares in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties.

Semi-trailers toppled

In Southern California, the storm knocked out electricity to more than 350,000 utility customers. By early Friday, 270,000 of them were still without power.

Gusts, which reached 125 km/h, were blamed for toppling semi-trailers and causing trees to fall on homes, apartment complexes and cars.

A state of emergency was declared in Los Angeles County, where schools in a dozen communities were closed.

In some neighborhoods, concrete light poles cracked in half. Darkened traffic signals and fallen palm tree fronds and branches snarled traffic. At a Shell station, the roof collapsed into a heap of twisted metal.

In heavily damaged Pasadena, schools and libraries closed and a local emergency, the first since 2004, was declared. Officials said 40 people were evacuated from an apartment building after a tree smashed part of the roof.

Pasadena is known for its historic homes and wide oak-lined streets that are frequently depicted in films.

Many residents Thursday blamed the city for protecting its old trees from over-trimming to such an extent that they have now become a public safety hazard.

Vince Mehrabian, the general manager at A&B Motor Cars, estimated eight Lexus, Cadillac and other luxury cars had been destroyed by fallen limbs. He said he'd been asking the city for four years to trim the trees more.

On a street around the corner, almost every tree was either cracked in half or missing limbs.

Elsewhere, Daphne Bell, a 30-year Pasadena resident, said she was kept awake by howling wind. "This is the worst, the absolute worst. There were times it sounded like a freight train was roaring down my driveway," she said.

Similar stories of downed trees and power lines echoed across the West, where winds in some areas ripped storefront awnings, filled gutters with debris and forced school closures.

In Utah, about 50,000 customers lost power along the state's 200-kilometre Wasatch Front as high winds took down power lines, but service was restored to more than half of them by Thursday night.

On Interstate 15, strong gusts blew more than 10 semi-trucks onto their sides, prompting authorities to temporarily close the highway to trucks. Commuter train travel was also interrupted after debris covered the tracks.