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High wind warning issued, near hurricane force gusts expected

December 14th, 2006 - 6:02am


(Port Angeles) -- It could be a wild weather night for the North Olympic Peninsula. The National Weather Service says another storm is expected to bring very strong winds and rain to the state later today and continuing into tomorrow.

Sustained winds of 40 miles per hour or more are forecast for both sides of the Cascades -- and the weather service says gusts could reach 80 or 90 miles per hour on the coast.

Meteorologist Jay Albrecht with the Seattle National Weather Service office tells Newsradio 1450 KONP an intense low is expected to form today and move onto the North Olympic Peninsula sometime tonight -- possibly between 8 and 10 o'clock.

He says computer models show once the low passes off to the northeast, there will be a very strong westerly surge through the Strait of Juan de Fuca, with 60 to 80 mile an hour winds possible over the water. Albrecht says the area he is worried about the most tonight is the west side of Whidbey Island, but all water-exposed areas could get hammered. Forecasters have a high wind watch in effect for all of Western Washington.


Fierce windstorm headed our way

By Sandi Doughton
Seattle Times staff reporter

Hang onto your garbage cans and stock up on batteries.

While many folks are still mopping up from Wednesday's big blow, an even stronger windstorm is headed for Western Washington tonight.

Or as University of Washington meteorologist Cliff Mass puts it, we're about to be stung by the "poisonous tail" of a nasty low-pressure system.

"There's absolutely no doubt this storm will happen," he said. "The only question is how strong will it get."

For the Puget Sound region, the National Weather Service (NWS) is forecasting sustained winds up to 40 mph, and gusts up to 65 mph. For the Strait of Juan de Fuca, winds will average 50 to 60 mph and gust up to 90 mph.

The highest gusts in Seattle on Wednesday were 47 mph, according to the NWS.

"It has the potential to be a memorable storm," said NWS meteorologist Dennis D'Amico.

Inauguration Day storm
On Jan. 20, 1993, the day Bill Clinton was sworn in as president, one of the strongest storms in recent years lashed Western Washington.

Winds reached 88 mph in Seattle and 95 mph in Hood Canal.

Six people were killed.

700,000 utility customers were left without power.

Damage was estimated at more than $100 million.

Source: Seattle Times archives

The winds should start picking up this afternoon, and peak overnight.

The winds will be significantly stronger than those that swept through the region Wednesday, disrupting power to thousands, uprooting trees and slowing the morning commute.

In fact, the low-pressure system approaching the coast is forecast to be more intense than the one that triggered 1993's Inauguration Day windstorm, which left six people dead, knocked out power to 700,000 homes and did more than $100 million in damage throughout the region. But this time the storm's path is slightly different, which might weaken the winds, Mass said.

It all depends on where that tail hits.

It's not the center of the low-pressure system that really kicks up the air, but the long tail that drags after it, Mass explained. Pressure changes rapidly in the tail, which creates the most powerful winds.

With the center of the approaching low projected to pass slightly to the north, the tail is well-positioned to lash the Puget Sound region.

"The path is crucial," Mass said. "It has to go north of us to get the strong winds."

While any forecast comes with uncertainty, all the computer models agree that winds are coming, D'Amico said. "But there's still a little leeway on the timing and position of the storm."

Though 40-mph winds are sufficient to cause considerable damage, this week's winds have already knocked most of the remaining leaves off the trees, Mass said. Bare trees are less likely to be uprooted. Weak branches have also been "pruned" by previous storms.

Driving tips
With high winds forecast for today and Friday, the state Department of Transportation (DOT) has released the following driving tips:

Watch for dark traffic signals. If a signal is dark, treat the intersection as a four-way stop.

Watch electronic highway signs for traffic alerts.

Listen to highway advisory radio messages for road-closure information and driver alerts.

For information on road conditions, go to www.wsdot.wa.gov and click on Traffic Alerts & Slowdowns or call the 511 highway information phone line, which also provides updates on ferry disruptions.

Source: Seattle Times archives

Tree branches downed by high winds on Wednesday were responsible for numerous power outages, mostly in North Seattle, said Seattle City Light spokesman Peter Clarke. As of 5 p.m., only about 200 City Light customers were still without power, down from the 13,000 customers affected by outages earlier in the day.

Northgate Mall and several Seattle schools were without power for at least part of the day.

About 22,000 Puget Sound Energy electrical customers were without power in scattered areas throughout King County at the peak of the winds, but the number had been halved by the afternoon, said Dennis Smedsrud, Puget Sound Energy spokesman.

In Snohomish County, about 6,000 utility customers were without power at the height of the winds, mainly in parts of Bothell, Maltby and parts of Monroe and Clearwater, said Snohomish County Public Utility spokesman Neil Neroutsos. The number was down to about 200 by 6 p.m. Wednesday, he said.

In the Rose Hill area of Kirkland, a fallen power line ignited natural gas in an underground pipe, pushing flames about 10 feet out of a utility-access cover. The Kirkland Fire Department had to be called to control the blaze, said Smedsrud.

Also on the Eastside, at least two homes were damaged by falling trees, one in the Juanita area and one in Sammamish.

In Tukwila, a 70-foot evergreen tree fell onto a school bus on Highway 99 south of Highway 509. No children were on the bus. The driver, a 31-year-old Renton man, swerved to miss the tree and lost control of the vehicle before coming to rest in a ditch, he said. He suffered minor injuries and was taken to Swedish Medical Center, said State Patrol Trooper Jeff Merrill. The driver was cited for driving with a suspended license and for failing to have the proper license for driving a school bus, Merrill said.

In downtown Seattle, a chain hooked to a tower crane at a construction site spun in high winds, smashing glass panels on the adjacent Bank of California building, said Scott Holbrook, operations manager for Turner Construction. The crane is designed to spin in the wind to lessen wind resistance, Holbrook said, explaining that the brakes were intentionally left off Tuesday night. But the chain should have been removed, he said.

"I saw it actually whack the building ... and I could see debris fly off," said Frank Cordell, an attorney whose office is on the 40th floor of a building at 1001 Fourth Ave.

Harbor Patrol officers rescued a windsurfer from Lake Washington after heavy winds snapped the mast on his sailboard, according to Seattle police. The man, who was windsurfing east of Magnuson Park, was pushed about a half-mile north by the wind just after 1 p.m., said police spokesman Jeff Kappel. The man was swimming toward Kirkland when he was pulled from the water by police, Kappel said. The man was not injured.

Sandi Doughton: 206-464-2491 or sdoughton@seattletimes.com

Information from Times staff reporters Sara Jean Green, Peyton Whitely and Jennifer Sullivan is included in this report.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company




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