Intense winds buffet Tri-Cities

By the Tri-City HeraldDecember 18, 2012 

Violent winds tore through the Tri-Cities early Monday, leaving toppled trees and power outages in their wake and sending public works and utility crews scrambling to clear roadways and restore connections.

Parts of Richland lost power in the high winds, with some neighborhoods expected to remain in the dark until today. Scattered outages also were reported in Kennewick, Finley, West Richland, Benton City and Pasco.

Around the Tri-Cities, gusts sent branches and other debris hurdling into power lines and onto sidewalks and roadways. Street signs blew down and traffic signals went out. More than a few roof shingles took flight.

"Quite a few trampolines (went airborne)," said Mike Blatman, Kennewick Police Department spokesman. "They became sails."

In Richland, gusts ripped several trees in John Dam Plaza off George Washington Way from the ground, their deep roots exposed.

In West Richland, a tree in front of a home on Iris Street blew over, lifting a carpet of lawn beneath it off the ground.

In Pasco, Rick Garza awoke about 3:15 a.m. to crashing sounds. Two large trees fell onto his house near his daughter's room, and others fell onto a fence and the street.

"These are not little Christmas trees. These are huge trees," said Garza, who lives on West Livingston Road.

He has lived in the home more than 15 years. "We've had strong winds before. These trees have pretty much survived," he said. "Not this time."

High winds peaked in the Tri-Cities Monday between 4 and 9 a.m., the National Weather Service in Pendleton reported.

The highest was an 83-mph gust recorded near Horn Rapids at 5 a.m., but there was a 63-mph gust just west of Kennewick at 4:46 a.m. and a 70-mph gust recorded at the Tri-Cities Airport at 5:15 a.m., said Dennis Hull, meteorologist. Gusts of more than 100 mph were recorded on Rattlesnake Mountain.

Hull said a strong cold front moved over the area, causing high winds in the atmosphere to drop down to the surface.

"Once or twice a winter, we get conditions like this," he said.

Hull said another front is set to move through the area, with some showers possible today and windy conditions beginning Wednesday.

However, he said, they shouldn't be as extreme as those brought on by Monday's wind storm.

The storm caused a flood of calls to emergency workers. Blatman said Kennewick police received about 230 calls for service from midnight to late afternoon -- about twice as many as usual.

Still, local law enforcement reported few if any weather-related wrecks. Most local city services operated as usual, officials across the Tri-Cities reported.

By late afternoon Monday, most people who lost power saw the lights come back on, although the Boise, Boulder, Camden, Concord, Cottonwood, Dallas, Dover and Duportail areas of Richland were expected to remain without power until today. Crews were "working diligently to restore power to all customers," the city said in a news release.

Richland also encouraged residents who had problems with garbage or recycling service because of the high winds to call 942-7700 to arrange a free pick-up later this week.

"Crews will pick up missed garbage from Monday's routes as needed," a Richland city news release said.

A city of Pasco press release said Basin Disposal will make Monday's garbage pickups today; the agency will haul away tumbleweeds placed curbside with residents' household trash.

As crews worked to clear roads and restore power, Tri-City residents dealt with property damage and reeled from close calls.

Fidelina Larios of Pasco awoke to a tree crashing onto the fence at her West Opal Place home. The home was unscathed, but the experience was frightening, Larios said.

"I was really worried about it," she said of the gusting wind.

On Duportail Street in Richland, a roughly 60-foot fir tree crashed onto a pickup parked in front of Diane Hilton's home.

The Dodge Ram belongs to her daughter's fiance. Other vehicles parked nearby also were damaged by the tree, but the Dodge took the brunt of it.

"The poor pickup truck," Hilton said.

Still, she was feeling lucky. "If it would have fallen toward the house, what a disaster that would have been," Hilton said.

-- Reporters Sara Schilling, Ty Beaver, Michelle Dupler, Kristi Pihl and Kristina Lord and photographers Bob Brawdy and Paul T. Erickson contributed to this story.

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