Winds buffet Utah, toppling trucks, trees, power lines
By Bob Mims And Lindsay Whitehurst The Salt Lake Tribune
Published: December 1, 2011 8:22 am
Winter storm expected in S. Utah; forecast for N. Utah: a light breeze.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Hurricane-force winds topping 100 mph in some places ripped through Utah Thursday, overturning semi-trailer rigs on Interstate 15, toppling trees and triggering widespread power outages affecting nearly 50,000 homes and businesses.
The Utah Highway Patrol reported 16 semis overturned by the wind on the state's highways Thursday, including three on Legacy Parkway and 10 more on Interstate 15 in Davis County, where winds lashed at 102 mph, said Cpl. Todd Johnson. None of the drivers suffered more than minor injuries.
The winds weren't quite as fierce by Thursday afternoon, but still gusting at more than 55 mph in places, the Utah Department of Transportation reported.
In Davis County, the winds had slowed to 30 mph by Thursday afternoon and were expected to continue to slow, according to the county sheriff's office.
But the wind damage left behind prompted the county to issue a disaster declaration Thursday night saying infrastructure damage exceeds $3.5 million. It will also close all schools in the Davis School District on Friday. Twenty-eight of those schools were closed Thursday as the wind knocked out power, downed trees, damaged rooftop equipment and shattered windows in 30 school buses.
"Our main focus is to make sure that our students and employees are safe," superintendent Bryan Bowles said in a press release. "We know families have been affected by this storm, not only students who go to schools, but also staff members who work in our schools."
Blowing snow closed Interstate 80 at Evanston, Wyo., early Thursday, and parts of the FrontRunner train route were closed from Layton to Salt Lake City Thursday morning due to power outages, debris on the tracks and damage to stations, including 15 toppled light poles in Farmington.
The Utah Transit Authority also advised passengers using its Paratransit service in Weber and Davis to cancel trips Thursday.
Winds toppled trees, power poles and electrical lines in both northern and southern Utah, said Dave Eskelsen, spokesman for Rocky Mountain Power. An estimated 14,500 Salt Lake Valley residents were without power as of Thursday afternoon, along with roughly 20,000 in the Ogden area and another 14,500 in Davis County.
The outages included the Davis County sheriff's office, though the building continued to operate on a generator.
Eskelsen said the outages were massive and widespread, taxing the utility's repair crews to their maximum. With that in mind, Rocky Mountain Power was warning those without service to brace for being powerless for about 48 hours.
"All our crews are out. We're going to have, literally, thousands of damage points to repair," he explained. "Our first priority is safety, but obviously we want to be able to get everyone back in service."
Rocky Mountain Power crews were also called out late Wednesday night in Ivins, where two toppled power poles left 3,000 homes without electricity, but service was restored within a couple hours.
The electrical service interruptions also resulted in school cancellations in Ogden and in Davis County. Weber State cancelled daytime classes Thursday but planned to hold evening classes at every location but Kaysville. The university's Kaysville classes are at Davis High School, which remained without electricity late in the afternoon, said Weber State spokesman John Kowalewski.
At Salt Lake International Airport spokeswoman Barbara Gann said three arriving flights and four departures had been cancelled, but she could not confirm they were related to windy conditions. However, at 10:45 a.m. Delta Air Lines instituted a 30-minute hold due to "severe turbulence aloft." Delta departures were expected to resume before noon.
Mail deliveries were suspended in some high-wind areas as well, the U.S. Postal Service said.
In hard-hit Centerville where city officials declared a local state of emergency after numerous trees were uprooted, and roof shingles strewn across streets and lawns, and fences were blown over officials put the early estimate for damages to city property at $8 million. Additionally, more than 100 trees were reported down at the Davis Golf Course, as well as numerous trees on the Weber State University campus in Ogden, and the Division of Motor Vehicles office in Farmington was closed due to power outage and high winds.
Daria Bitters, who lives on east bench of Centerville, lost three trees in their yard, rain gutters and shingles were blown off her house, and a shed was blown underneath her carport and onto a pickup truck.
In the 39 years Bitters has lived there, this is "one of the worst" wind storms, in terms of damage to their home, she said.
"We are used to east winds here in Davis County," she said. "But every so often, you get a doozy, and this is it."
Blake Tingey, who was visiting his parents, who live near 200 East and 1250 North in Centerville, said the "unreal winds" began about 10 p.m. Wednesday night.
A tree was down in the front yard and "all our stuff in the back yard is missing," Tingey said. "I just keep waiting for it to calm down."
At Farmington's court complex, the entire day's calendar was cancelled due to the high winds, which were blowing debris and causing a dangerous situation, according to state court spokeswoman Nancy Volmer. Court filings can be made at the Bountiful or Layton courthouses. The Farmington courthouse was expected to reopen on Friday.
Ogden's chief administrative officer, Mark Johnson, said city crews there began working early to clear a "significant amount" of trees from streets, and some from homes and roofing. "Because the winds are so strong we have not been out assessing how much damage is there," Johnson said Thursday afternoon.
"We are encouraging people right now to hunker down and do an in-home shelter if they can," he added. "Our number one priority is life safety and number two is to keep the roadways open."
Winds were not as fierce at the Ogden-Hinckley Airport, and it escaped damage.
"We're far enough away from the mountain, where we don't get hit," said airport manager Royal Eccles.
Two liquor stores in Ogden one at 3802 Pacific Ave. and the other at 1160 Patterson Ave. as well as another in Bountiful at 520 N. 500 West weren't as lucky and closed due to power outages.
The outages turned many Ogden intersections into four-way stops. Throughout the city, people cruised by uprooted trees and damaged roofs, snapping photos with their cell phones.
But perhaps the hottest spot to record someone else's misfortune was on Harrison Boulevard, near 26th Street.
An old maple, roughly 4 feet in diameter, snapped and crashed into the middle of a 1999 Toyota Camry parked along Harrison.
Bianka Reyes, 14, said she heard the tree hit the car belonging to her mother and step-father just after 5 a.m. But it wasn't until city crews brought their chain saws and removed the tree that the family found it crushed. Its windows were shattered; the roof was down in the seats, covered in bark.
"My mother was crying," said Reyes, who traveled with her mother to Mexico, Florida and South Carolina in the Camry before venturing to Utah earlier this fall.
"It's a good car. Its journey," said Reyes, "ends here in Utah."
In Davis County, officials also encouraged people to "assess their situation" and turn to family and friends for help first. Residents should make sure they have a way to heat their homes and power any other special medical needs.
Those seeking help were asked to call the sheriff's office non-emergency number at 801- 451-4151 to reach the Red Cross.
At Weber State University, trees were snapped at the trunks and uprooted, signs were twisted and light poles had toppled along Ogden's east bench, prompting the school to cancel classes until late afternoon Thursday.
At the Shepherd Union (SUB), pieces of solar panels gouged part of the roof and slammed into the glass roof of the atrium, shattering one outside pane and twisting the metal flashing. The outside pane on another window was shattered, and the roll-up door by the theater was blown into the building.
No one was injured at the SUB, where the damage occurred about 8:30 a.m., but several people walking on campus were struck by blowing debris, said SUB Director Bill Fruth.
"I've never seen anything like this," said Fruth, who saw a car pinned under a tree on his way to campus Thursday morning.
Weber State was still assessing broken windows and roof damage to buildings on its Ogden campus Thursday afternoon.
At a construction site where a new residence hall is being built, a cinder block wall snapped in half.
At least two students reported wind gusts knocked them to the ground, and another was injured by a door swinging in the wind, he said. None of them was seriously injured.
Officials continued to advise people to call 911 only if they have an emergency because of the heavy load of calls coming in to dispatchers.
In Salt Lake City, the winds toppled 30 trees at the City Cemetery, seven at Sunnyside Park and one large tree at Gilgal Gardens, though none of the statues there were damaged.
"It appears that we'll have all major right-of-ways cleared by [Thursday] evening," said Salt Lake City Public Services Director Rick Graham. "While some sidewalks may remain blocked until [Friday], our crews have done an outstanding job in clearing streets. City traffic should currently be moving without hindrance from storm-related debris."
Though trees on private property have to be cleared by the owner, the city will pick up debris from downed trees starting Dec. 7. For more information, call Salt Lake City's Urban Forest Division at 801-972-7818.
High wind warnings were issued by the National Weather Service for northern Salt Lake, Davis, Weber and eastern Box Elder counties, as well as the western deserts, through 10 p.m. Thursday. Steady winds were being recorded in the 40-60 mph range, with gusts in excess of 80 mph. Thursday morning, in addition to Centerville's 102 mph mark, West Bountiful recorded a gust of 92 mph, Badger Spring 89 and Ogden Peak 83.
A winter storm warning with snowfall of 10-18 inches predicted in some locales was in effect for northeastern Utah from just north of Vernal, and running west to the Wasatch Mountains. The warning also included much of central Utah, including Manti, Price and Bear River, as well as southcentral Utah's Escalante area and southwestern Utah's Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks, Cedar City and St. George. The warning expires 4 a.m. Friday.
The Utah Avalanche Center rated all mountain areas of the state at "moderate" for dangerous snow slide risks, while the Utah Department of Environmental Quality gave "Green," or healthy rankings for air quality statewide.
Salt Lake City looked for a high temperature Friday of 37 degrees; Ogden 35; Provo 40; Logan 31; Wendover 38; Duchesne 35; Cedar City 38; St. George 52; and Moab 41 degrees.
Cimaron Neugebauer , Kristen Moulton and Roxana Orellana contributed to this story.
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O Share your wind-related photos with us at firstname.lastname@example.org School closures
All Davis School District schools will be closed Friday. In other districts, officials will decide in the morning whether to cancel classes at a few schools, including:
• Madison Elementary and Taylor Canyon Elementary in the Ogden School District, where power outages caused boiler problems. Parents can call the schools in the morning, drop by or check the media.
• Lakeview Elementary and Roosevelt Elementary in the Weber School District. A phone call will go out to parents; information will also be posted on the school's website and released to the media.
District spokespeople Donna Corby and Nate Taggart