WIND PROBLEMS

NEWS

compiled by Dee Finney

This photo was taken from an airplane just arriving to Juarez City, Chih. in Mexico. Juarez City is a border with El Paso Texas.
June, 2004

 

Camelback Mtn., near Phoenix, AZ

2003

MORE PHOTOS

 

Map & Graph: Africa: Geography: Natural hazards by country

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Country Description
1. Mayotte cyclones during rainy season
2. Comoros cyclones possible during rainy season (December to April); Le Kartala on Grand Comore is an active volcano
3. Djibouti earthquakes; droughts; occasional cyclonic disturbances from the Indian Ocean bring heavy rains and flash floods
4. Tanzania flooding on the central plateau during the rainy season; drought
5. Burundi flooding, landslides, drought
6. Cameroon volcanic activity with periodic releases of poisonous gases from Lake Nyos and Lake Monoun volcanoes
7. Saint Helena active volcanism on Tristan da Cunha
8. Cote d'Ivoire coast has heavy surf and no natural harbors; during the rainy season torrential flooding is possible
9. Swaziland drought
10. Gambia, The drought (rainfall has dropped by 30% in the last 30 years)
11. Ghana dry, dusty, northeastern harmattan winds occur from January to March; droughts
12. Sierra Leone dry, sand-laden harmattan winds blow from the Sahara (December to February); sandstorms, dust storms
13. Sudan dust storms and periodic persistent droughts
14. Liberia dust-laden harmattan winds blow from the Sahara (December to March)
15. Eritrea frequent droughts; locust swarms
16. Ethiopia geologically active Great Rift Valley susceptible to earthquakes, volcanic eruptions; frequent droughts
17. Togo hot, dry harmattan wind can reduce visibility in north during winter; periodic droughts
18. Libya hot, dry, dust-laden ghibli is a southern wind lasting one to four days in spring and fall; dust storms, sandstorms
19. Mauritania hot, dry, dust/sand-laden sirocco wind blows primarily in March and April; periodic droughts
20. Western Sahara hot, dry, dust/sand-laden sirocco wind can occur during winter and spring; widespread harmattan haze exists 60% of time, often severely restricting visibility
21. Guinea hot, dry, dusty harmattan haze may reduce visibility during dry season
22. Guinea-Bissau hot, dry, dusty harmattan haze may reduce visibility during dry season; brush fires
23. Benin hot, dry, dusty harmattan wind may affect north from December to March
24. Central African Republic hot, dry, dusty harmattan winds affect northern areas; floods are common
25. Chad hot, dry, dusty harmattan winds occur in north; periodic droughts; locust plagues
26. Mali hot, dust-laden harmattan haze common during dry seasons; recurring droughts; occasional Niger River flooding
27. Seychelles lies outside the cyclone belt, so severe storms are rare; short droughts possible
28. Angola locally heavy rainfall causes periodic flooding on the plateau
29. Senegal lowlands seasonally flooded; periodic droughts
30. Bassas da India maritime hazard since it is usually under water during high tide and surrounded by reefs; subject to periodic cyclones
31. Algeria mountainous areas subject to severe earthquakes; mudslides and floods in rainy season
32. Morocco northern mountains geologically unstable and subject to earthquakes; periodic droughts
33. Juan de Nova Island periodic cyclones
34. Madagascar periodic cyclones
35. Glorioso Islands periodic cyclones
36. Zambia periodic drought, tropical storms (November to April)
37. Lesotho periodic droughts
38. Congo, Democratic Republic of the periodic droughts in south; Congo River floods (seasonal); in the east, in the Great Rift Valley, there are active volcanoes
39. Nigeria periodic droughts; flooding
40. Egypt periodic droughts; frequent earthquakes, flash floods, landslides; hot, driving windstorm called khamsin occurs in spring; dust storms, sandstorms
41. Botswana periodic droughts; seasonal August winds blow from the west, carrying sand and dust across the country, which can obscure visibility
42. Rwanda periodic droughts; the volcanic Virunga mountains are in the northwest along the border with Democratic Republic of the Congo
43. South Africa prolonged droughts
44. Namibia prolonged periods of drought
45. Kenya recurring drought; flooding during rainy seasons
46. Niger recurring droughts
47. Burkina Faso recurring droughts
48. Zimbabwe recurring droughts; floods and severe storms are rare
49. Somalia recurring droughts; frequent dust storms over eastern plains in summer; floods during rainy season
50. Congo, Republic of the seasonal flooding
51. Mozambique severe droughts; devastating cyclones and floods occur in central and southern provinces
52. Equatorial Guinea violent windstorms, flash floods

 
Definition: Potential natural disasters.

Source: CIA World Factbook, December 2003

 

Seattle area windstorm kills one

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

SEATTLE, Washington (Reuters) -- Strong winds toppled trees and downed power lines north of Seattle Tuesday, leaving one man dead and more than 80,000 homes without electricity, while snarling road traffic and shutting ferry service across Puget Sound, officials said.

Winds gusting as high as 45 miles per hour slammed a tree down on a car at a park on Whidbey Island, crushing a man inside, police said.

"It's still windy here, but it's starting to die down and the calls (for assistance) are starting to slow down," Washington State Patrol spokesman Lt. Jeff Sass said by telephone.

Snohomish County Public Utility District reported 60,000 homes had lost power as did 16,000 customers of Puget Sound Energy and about 6,000 in the city of Seattle.

"We'll be working throughout the night to get power back up," PSE spokesman Tim Bader said by telephone.

In Washington state's arid eastern farm belt, even stronger winds were reportedly kicking up dust storms but left utility service largely intact.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved.

Another one - December, 2003

 

Dust storms blow through Kuwait camps

by Spc. Jacob Boyer

CAMP NEW YORK, Kuwait (Army News Service, March 4, 2003) -- Soldiers found themselves cleaning their gear after the third dust storm in as many weeks left a coat of sand covering the camps in northern Kuwait Feb. 25.

"I couldn't see five feet in front of me," said Spc. Jose Loya, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Infantry Division (Mech.), a fueler from El Paso, Texas. "But you've just got to suck it up and drive on."

Gusts of up to 29 knots made seeing difficult as virtual walls of sand swept through living areas.

"The biggest factor (in the storms) is the gusty winds," said Maj. Dave Coxwell, 15th Air Support Operations Squadron weather flight commander. "It's very dependent on the seasons. In this season, you can see high winds every day, and a storm like this maybe once every 10 days."

There are many problems associated with the storms, but one of the biggest is eye protection, said Coxwell, a Savannah, Georgia native.

"If you can't see, you can't fight," he said. "Right now the big issue is visibility. It negatively impacts all kinds of operations, particularly flight."

"When the dust rolls in, you've got to put your goggles on and find whatever breathing protection you've got," said Spc. Austin Boone, HHC, 123rd Signal Battalion, information systems technician.

Technical equipment, such as computers, is very vulnerable in a dust storm, said Boone, who is from Alexandria, Virginia. Many soldiers wrap their gear in clear plastic bags so work can continue without ruining the equipment.

"Sand gets into everything," Coxwell said. "It's either laptops failing or just everything getting covered in it."

Recent storms have also damaged tents around the camps. One of the dining facilities at Camp New York has had one of its walls collapse twice, and other tents have completely collapsed.

Once the storms pass, clean-up begins.

"Our office has an air compressor," Boone said. "We go around and clean everybody's computers and tables. You've got to get the dust out as quickly as you can."

Boone, who was in Kuwait last summer during 3rd Brigade's rotation, said the recent storms are only the beginning.

"We haven't even seen the real dust storms yet," he said. We'll see them in a few months. You can't see anything."

The gusts in Kuwait in March average about 34 knots, Coxwell said.

Dust storms can affect a soldier's day in other ways beyond the impact on equipment.

"These dust storms are kind of like a rainy day back in the States," Boone said. "You know the day's going to be sluggish, you don't want to go outside, and you don't want to do any work."

 

Posted on Tue, Apr. 16, 2002

Winds whip through Bay Area
MORE THAN 6,000 PENINSULA CUSTOMERS LOSE ELECTRICITY; TRUCKS BLOWN OVER
By Lisa Fernandez
Mercury News

Winds gusting at more than 50 mph blew through the Bay Area early Monday, tipping over trucks, knocking down power lines and forcing beekeepers to protect their hives.

The winds caused electrical outages Sunday night for about 20,000 PG&E customers scattered around the Bay Area, though most had their power restored by Monday morning.

On the Peninsula, 3,800 San Bruno customers, 1,110 Burlingame customers and 1,200 San Mateo customers were among those hardest hit with temporary power losses because of downed lines.

Customers in Brisbane, Daly City, Hillsborough, Half Moon Bay, Pacifica, South San Francisco and Woodside also temporarily lost electricity.

The strong gusts also unmoored a boat docked in Alameda, sending a father and son on a wild bay ride ending without major injury on a muddy patch near the San Mateo bridge.

``Oh no, this is not typical,'' said National Weather Service meteorologist Mark Burger. ``Even though spring is a favorite time to have stronger winds, this is a bit unusual any way you want to look at it.''

Winds are expected to taper off today to 25 mph, which is still above normal, and continue at above-average speeds throughout the week, Burger said. Temperatures are expected to be in the 50s and 60s today with a few more clouds than Monday.

The winds began Sunday about 6:30 p.m., topping out at 52 mph -- about five times what is considered normal -- at San Francisco International Airport, according to the National Weather Service.

Dozens of PG&E crews worked throughout Sunday night fixing power lines.

``In windstorms, there are many small isolated incidents scattered over a fairly large area,'' said Paul Moreno, a spokesman for the utility company. ``Especially in a heavily wooded area such as the Peninsula, there's lots of potential for that to happen.''

The winds also unmoored a 38-foot trimaran, stranding a father and son in the mud near the San Mateo Bridge for a good part of Monday, said U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Carl Hausner.

The boat started drifting south about 3 a.m. Sunday, Hausner said.

Jesse Depuglia and his adult son, Pete, called the Coast Guard for help.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Mercury News staff writers Joshua Kwan and Dennis Knight contributed to this report.
Contact Lisa Fernandez at lfernandez@sjmercury.com or (510) 790-7313.
Posted on Tue, Apr. 16, 2002

High gusts topple trees, I-580 trucks
POWER LOST; BOAT DRIFTS FROM ALAMEDA; MORE WIND EXPECTED
By Lisa Fernandez
Mercury News

Winds gusting at more than 50 mph blew through the Bay Area early Monday, tipping over trucks, knocking down power lines, forcing beekeepers to protect their hives and tearing a boat loose from its dock, stranding it in the mud near the Hayward-San Mateo bridge.

``Oh no, this is not typical,'' said National Weather Service meteorologist Mark Burger. ``Even though spring is a favorite time to have stronger winds, this is a bit unusual any way you want to look at it.''

A low pressure front from the Great Salt Lake in Utah butting up with a high pressure Eastern Pacific front caused the unusually strong winds out of the northwest, he said.

Winds are expected to taper off today to 25 mph, which is still above normal, and continue blowing at above-average speeds throughout the week, Burger said. Temperatures are expected to be in the 50s and 60s today with a few more clouds than Monday, Burger said.

The high winds began Sunday about 6:30 p.m., topping out at 52 mph -- about five times what is considered normal -- at San Francisco International Airport, according to the National Weather Service.

But none of the Bay Area's three major airports, in San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland, reported any delays Monday. Wind advisories, however, were issued for the Bay Area's bridges.

With winds continuing to whip at great speeds Sunday about 9:15 p.m. along Interstate 580 in Tracy, a FedEx truck, a UPS vehicle, two big rigs and an RV trailer were blown over on their sides, said California Highway Patrol Sgt. Pat White.

No one was hurt, White said, and most of the drivers spent the night with their vehicles. Officers slowed traffic through the Altamont Pass throughout the night, and lanes were cleared and vehicles uprighted by 10 a.m. Monday, the CHP said. With air blowing down from the Diablo Mountain range into the valley, the crosswinds were exceptionally strong, White said.

``It went on all night,'' she said. ``This is not a common occurrence.

The powerful windstorm also knocked out electricity to about 20,000 PG&E customers scattered around the Bay Area on Sunday night, with the heaviest outages in the East Bay and Peninsula. Power was restored to most customers by Monday morning.

Felled trees caused about 9,000 San Jose PG&E customers to lose power Sunday night. Power was fully restored by 9:30 a.m. Monday, PG&E spokesman Jeff Smith said.

In San Jose, Kevin O'Connor, the city's field services division manager, was busy responding to about half a dozen ``minor'' tree-related calls Monday, and a few reports of out-of-order traffic signals.

Strong winds also made it harder to battle a three-alarm blaze in San Jose at 3331 Brigadoon Way. The fire, which displaced 16 people, broke out at 5:40 a.m. from an unattended candle, displacing 16 people, firefighters said.

Ray Busch, a novice beekeeper in Castro Valley, woke up at 5:45 a.m. Monday to protect his 60,000 bees. He placed heavy bricks on top of 15 hives so the tops wouldn't blow off.

``The hives have to remain at about 98 degrees,'' he said. ``Otherwise, you wouldn't be able to keep the brood warm enough.''

The winds also tore a 38-foot trimaran from its anchorage, a dock in Alameda, pushed the boat down the bay and stranded a father and son in the mud near the Hayward-San Mateo Bridge for a good part of Monday, said U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Carl Hausner.

The boat, where Jesse Depuglia lives, started drifting south about 3 a.m. Monday, Hausner said.

Depuglia, who works in Palo Alto, and his adult son, Pete, called the Coast Guard for help. A helicopter was sent out from San Francisco along with a rescue swimmer, who handed the pair a radio because their cell phone had stopped operating. The two decided to stay on their boat until high tide in midafternoon.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Staff writers Dennis Knight and Josh Kwan contributed to this report.
Contact Lisa Fernandez at lfernandez@sjmercury.com or (510) 790-7313.
Monday April 15 09:24 PM EDT
Wind Closes SF Road Closed Until Wednesday
By The PIXPage Staff

It looks like gusting winds are heading back to the Bay Area, even while people are still cleaning up from Sunday night's wild weather.

The wind knocked out power to thousands of households, toppled trees and streetlights, and closed roads. The Great Highway at Ocean Beach in San Francisco will be closed until at least Wednesday, while crews clean up the sand that covers the roadway.

At Mt. Tamalpais in Marin County and Mt. Diablo in Contra Costa County, hurricane force winds were measured Sunday night. Even a simple commute across the Bay Bridge was an experience to remember.

"The car kind of moves back and forth," said Camille Escudero of Alameda. "You have to adjust the steering wheel."

Monday night, more high winds are expected. Temperatures are forecast to be in the 50s, but with the wind chill factor, it could feel like it's in the 40-degree range.

For more Bay Area news and information, visit kpix.com or www.kcbs.com.



Angry Weather Wreaks Havoc
BY MIKE GORRELL
THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE

The sky looked as darkly ominous at times Monday as it did in 1999 when a tornado blasted through downtown Salt Lake City, upsetting conventional thinking about how violent Utah weather can get.

While no tornadoes twisted through this time, winds associated with a strong spring storm buffeted much of the state, causing havoc along a lengthy stretch of Interstate 15. Sections of the north-south freeway were closed from Parowan to Point of the Mountain as semitrailers were toppled or blowing dust drastically reduced visibility and contributed to several multivehicle accidents.

Still, no serious injuries were reported.

Winds clocked in the 35-40 mph range and reaching into the 60s and 70s also knocked down power poles carrying a major Utah Power transmission line, leaving much of Sandy and Draper in the dark for hours. About 35,000 people statewide were affected by electrical outages, said utility spokesman Kimball Hansen.

In Salt Lake City, a window at the New York Burrito restaurant on 300 South was shattered, as was a door into Lamb's Grill Cafe, 169 S. Main St. Some cable television service was disrupted and numerous traffic lights were out.
In central Utah, farmers' field-clearing fires were whipped up, adding smoke to the mix and demanding the attention of all available firefighting crews.

It was an audacious way to announce the approach of a potent storm expected to drop several inches of snow in northern Utah valleys and 1-2 feet in the mountains by the time it departs today.

Just as Predicted: "We said Sunday it was going to be a doozy and it was," said National Weather Service lead forecaster Chris Gibson. "It's not uncommon in April. There's a lot of cold air still around from winter so you get temperature contrasts with these spring fronts that result in these strong winds."

Gusts reached 78 mph in Woods Cross, 71 in Delta, 69 in Fillmore, 67 in Wendover and 60 at Salt Lake City International Airport and in Bountiful. This system was noteworthy for its reach, with winds hitting 51 in St. George, 49 in Moab and Bryce Canyon, 45 in Price and 39 in Vernal.

Usually bustling this time of year, St. George was like a ghost town. Tourists stayed indoors for much of the day, avoiding golf courses and the streets. Motels locked their guests out of the pool areas, as the pools were beginning to accumulate sand.

Wind started causing traffic problems just after 10:45 a.m. when 16 cars collided in several separate accidents near Meadow in Millard County. High winds and poor visibility are the cause of that accident, which kept parts of I-15 closed until 6:45 p.m, Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Ted Tingey said.

Just before 3 p.m., I-15 north of Paragonah in Iron County was closed after four semitrailers collided when visibility problems caused traffic to halt. One of the four semi drivers was taken to a southern Utah hospital but his injuries were not life-threatening, Tingey said.

I-80 between Tooele and Wendover was closed to high-profile vehicles between 2 and 4 p.m. The UHP issued the closure after a semi toppled 20 miles east of Wendover. Two more trucks, at the Point of the Mountain and near Lehi, were also tipped by the gusting winds. "We were very, very fortunate on this one," Tingey said as he explained only minor injuries were reported by UHP troopers.

Power Problems: Power lines also fell victim to the winds. Outages were widespread, said Utah Power spokesman Hansen, citing problems in Milford, Minersville, Parowan, rural Beaver County and in the southern Salt Lake Valley.

The most severe involved a 138,000-volt transmission line along 11800 South. Many of its 17 supporting poles were knocked askew by the gale -- one fell onto an apartment complex but did not ignite a fire -- resulting in a shutdown of two substations.

Three apartment complexes in the area were evacuated and students at Juan Diego High School were kept inside until about 4 p.m. while crews grounded the downed power lines, Salt Lake County fire Capt. Jay Ziolkowski said.

"All of our crews, and our contractors, are fully mobilized at this point to get customers back on line," Hansen said Monday evening, expecting outages to last for varying durations into the night.

After the wind shattered a 7-by-12-foot window at the New York Burrito store, owner Vincent Morris said there was "broken glass, dust and crap everywhere . . . it looks like something out of a bad horror movie." But he was relieved, too. None of his half-dozen customers was injured.
Larry Helquist, maintenance supervisor in the Salt Lake County Public Works Department, said he saw several collapsed carports, flying shingles, dozens of wood fences no longer upright and several big trees lying on roads.

"There's a lot of property damage, but it was a lot less than I thought it would be when the winds picked up," Helquist said. "It's not nearly as bad as that storm we had last summer," he added.
_________

Tribune reporters Brent Israelsen and Jacob Santini contributed to this story.

Tuesday, April 16, 2002
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal

SEEING IS BELIEVING: Gusts send dust flying
High winds close airport and keep emergency crews scrambling

By KEITH ROGERS
REVIEW-JOURNAL


A fierce windstorm tore across a wide swath of Southern Nevada Monday, paralyzing air traffic for two hours, capsizing a houseboat on Lake Mead, knocking a gasoline tanker off the road, and shutting down parts of U.S. Highway 95 where visibility was reduced to zero by blowing dust.

"It appears to be the worst we've had in some time," said National Weather Service meteorologist Barry Pierce.

Gusts were routinely clocked at speeds above 60 mph throughout the Las Vegas Valley, with one recorded at 90 mph several miles south of the Strip.

The extreme wind conditions kept emergency responders busy with fires, power outages and accidents covering an area from Indian Springs to Boulder City to Lake Mead's Echo Bay and as far away as Lincoln County and Mohave County, Ariz.

Several motorists were injured in wind-related accidents, but the daylong barrage of southwesterly gusts caused no fatalities.

American Red Cross officials said they responded to three Nevada counties where neighborhoods sustained wind damage.

In Lincoln County, some mobile homes were knocked off their foundations and officials were preparing to declare a state of emergency, according to a Red Cross statement.

In Clark County, roof damage was reported at a housing complex in North Las Vegas, requiring evacuation of 60 senior citizens. In Nye County, a Pahrump resident reported the roof was blown off his mobile home.

Not since a localized gust estimated to be more than 80 mph from a July 1994 thunderstorm toppled the Las Vegas Hilton marquee -- billed as the tallest free-standing sign in the world -- have winds wreaked such havoc around the valley.

"I've been here 11 years, and it's definitely the strongest, most widespread wind event I've seen," said National Weather Service spokesman Brian Fuis.

He said the strong winds were driven by a "very strong and very cool low pressure" system that began moving southward from the Gulf of Alaska a few days ago.

Besides generating winds, the system dropped temperatures by about 30 degrees from the 95-degree reading Sunday at McCarran International Airport that tied a record for April 14 set in 1947.

Sunday also registered the warmest low temperature on record for April 14 in Las Vegas at 66 degrees, breaking the 64-degree mark set in 1955.

Gusts exceeding 80 mph were recorded in Apex, northeast of the Las Vegas Valley, weather service officials said.

A 91-mph gust at 2 p.m. was recorded at an unofficial station at Wheeler's Las Vegas RV, seven miles south of the Strip at Lake Mead Drive and Las Vegas Boulevard.

At the official monitoring station at McCarran, a peak gust of 59 mph was clocked at 2:45 p.m. in the midst of a 2-hour-long halt to air traffic arriving and departing from the airport.

McCarran spokeswoman Hilarie Grey said low visibility during the strong wind event prompted the Federal Aviation Administration to put a hold on incoming and outgoing air traffic from 1:20 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

"If you can see the airport, we're doing better than we were an hour ago," she said by telephone at 3:45 p.m.

At the time air traffic was stopped, Grey said, 25 planes were waiting to take off and a dozen approaching commercial aircraft were diverted to other airports. Six were sent to Los Angeles International, five to Ontario Airport in California, and one went to Phoenix.

Rhonda Oldham, FAA manager at the McCarran tower, described the conditions as "pretty bumpy."

"The winds were gusting up to 55 knots. When it gets that strong, they don't want to land," she said.

A Nellis Air Force Base spokesman said a tour plane trying to land at the North Las Vegas airport declared an emergency because of strong cross winds and poor visibility and landed instead at the base.

Another small jet destined for McCarran was diverted to the Nellis base, where Air Force planes were not flying because of the safety hazard, said Master Sgt. Richard Covington, a base spokesman.

He said a helicopter team from the 66th Rescue Squadron, however, was dispatched at 2 p.m. to a remote part of Lake Mead to retrieve two stranded boaters.

The two were brought back to the base and taken to a hospital, but they declined treatment.

Covington and Clark County Fire Department spokesman Bob Leinbach said the two were among seven aboard a houseboat that capsized in the Echo Bay part of Lake Mead.

Boaters in the area picked up the other five, they said.

About the same, a gasoline tanker rig blew over on southbound Interstate 15 near the Henderson cutoff, leaving the driver with minor injuries, said Nevada Highway Patrol spokesman Trooper Alan Davidson.

The interchange at I-15 and state Route 160 was shut down as a result of the tanker rollover.

A stretch of U.S. 95 between Boulder City and Searchlight was closed for most of the day beginning at 10 a.m. because of poor visibility caused by blowing dust, Davidson said.

He said another major traffic accident blamed on visibility problems occurred one mile south of the Nevada-California state line in the northbound lanes of I-15.

Earlier in the day, Leinbach said Clark County emergency crews responded to a collision involving two pickup trucks near Indian Springs. Three people were injured and transported to Las Vegas hospitals, he said.

For much of the day, the Stratosphere stood like a ghost shrouded by a dense cloud of dust.

Construction sites were shut down as dust conditions reached dangerously unhealthful levels and water trucks were sent to spray development sites, according to the Clark County Air Quality Management Department.

Four local radio stations were silenced as wind disrupted transmission systems for up to an hour.

There were numerous reports of downed power lines, toppled trees and bus shelters getting blown over.

Power outages were reported in Indian Springs, Blue Diamond, Jean and Cold Creek.

High winds also damaged a fee booth station and forced Bureau of Land Management officials to close Red Rock Canyon's 13-mile scenic drive.

The scenic loop is expected to open at 6 a.m. today with the Visitor Center opening at 8 a.m., according to a BLM statement.

Today, winds are expected to be between 15 mph and 25 mph.



Valley of wind 

Whipped by gusts and scoured by dust, towns keep heads down

By S.J. Komarnitsky
Anchorage Daily News

(Published: July 16, 2001)

WASILLA -- Beth McKibben's lawn chair was supposed to be unbreakable.

Then the Valley wind got hold of it in the back yard of her Palmer home. A gust scooped up the plastic chair, cartwheeled it over her 4-foot-high fence and dropped it into the neighbor's yard.

By the time McKibben caught up with it, the chair was in pieces.

The chair was only a minor victim of the Valley terror, a dirt-blasting wind that residents have learned to dread. It can gust up to 100 mph, the National Weather Service says. It happens any time of year, but it is especially noticeable in the spring, when it kicks and swirls great clouds of dust. It upends airplanes, flattens buildings, knocks over vans and stirs up so much glacial silt from dry riverbeds that the resulting wall of dust was once mistaken for a forest fire.

The wind is a way of life in the Valley.

Residents curse how it sucks the breath right out of their mouths and slips icy fingers through even the thickest jackets. And even in the tightest houses, it worms through cracks in windows and leaves dusty fingerprints. But they know trying to battle the wind is an exercise in futility. Unlike against the cold or buzzing mosquitoes, they can't simply throw on a warmer jacket or spray on another coat of bug dope.

"You just gotta get used to it," said Rick Dolfi, a road worker whose home near Sutton just off the Matanuska River is sometimes battered for a month at a time. "It's Mother Nature."

As foreman of the state's road maintenance crews in the Mat-Su area, Dolfi has spent a lot of time battling the wind. On some streets, his crews plow snow only to have it blown right back onto the road. Sometimes, he said, the wind nearly knocks the plows off the road.

The Valley is hardly the only place in Alaska with high winds. The Anchorage Hillside regularly gets blasted with gale-force winds, especially this past winter when one storm after another rolled through town. In coastal regions, the wind is nearly constant.

The island of Attu, in the Aleutians, holds the official record for highest wind gust in Alaska with a 159 mph blast in 1950. But an unofficial measurement along a power line in Southeast Alaska once hit 200 before the gauge measuring windspeed blew off, said Dave Goldstein of the National Weather Service.

Mat-Su can't top that, but the area is regularly pummeled. And where the wind may have little noticeable effect on the relatively barren landscape of a place like Attu, the Valley, with its ever growing population, is full of buildings and objects the wind can thrash and batter.

Last winter, a cargo van heading across the Knik River Bridge on the Glenn Highway flipped over when a gust slammed into it.

A 1996 storm created a wall of dust so opaque that it forced one driver to stop on the Knik River Bridge on the Old Glenn Highway. Another driver, blinded by the cloud, crashed into the first car. Five people were hurt. One described it as being like driving in a dark room.

But perhaps the worst wind in recent memory was a howler in February 1979.

Gov. Jay Hammond declared the Valley a disaster area after winds, some up to 80 mph, pummeled the area for a week.

School was canceled, and National Guard troops were sent out in armored personnel carriers to rescue people stuck in their homes by snowdrifts. They sent out four of the tracked vehicles, but only three got to help. One was buried in a snowdrift.

Pictures show cars buried in snow, planes on their backs and buildings reduced to piles of two-by-fours. One egg farmer's warehouse was leveled. His remaining chickens, 15,000 of them, spontaneously molted and refused to lay eggs.

"You grow to the respect the wind here," said Gerry Keeling, who with her children watched the drifts pile up outside their living room window.

"We just stayed home and battened down the hatches," she said.

Keeling, who has lived in the Valley for more than 60 years, remembers the cherry-red gasoline pumps that once adorned a downtown Palmer station. At least they started out cherry red. Then a windstorm sandblasted them. The result was a two-tone pump: red on the back and nickel silver on the front.

"It just polished them shiny bright," she said.

She also remembers the sound of the fire alarm in a windstorm, which years ago was a fire whistle blown from the top of a downtown building.

"That was one of most sad sounds to hear," she said. "We'd always say a prayer for whoever's property it was."

Her husband knew the wind was coming when he saw spindrifts of snow tailing off the tops of the mountains, she said. He called them whiskers.

"He'd say there's whiskers on the mountains; we're going to get wind," she said.

The cause of the wind is simple, said Dave Vonderheide, a National Weather Service meteorologist. Most often it's created when a high-pressure system in Interior Alaska or in Prince William Sound is coupled with a low to the west, often in Bristol Bay.

As air rushes from the high- to the low-pressure area, it slides over mountaintops and down valleys and picks up speed. Like water going through a garden hose's nozzle, the more the wind is constricted, the faster it blows.

The Knik and Matanuska valleys funnel winds this way, as does the infamous Topkok blowhole in the Topkok Hills on the western coast that Iditarod mushers have learned to fear. Near Cordova, a woman is said to have been blown off the Copper River bridge by a gust after she got out of her car, Goldstein said. He's not sure whether that's true, but it's not implausible because winds regularly blast down the valley at up to 100 mph.

As it slides past mountainsides and over trees, it also creates little whirlpools of wind that spin just like eddies in a stream. If the main wind and the whirling wind are timed just right, they create a gust or blast of air.

Vonderheide once decided to videotape the wind coming down the Knik River Valley, an experience he advises people not to repeat.

He parked his truck on the riverbed and then aimed his camera at the wall of dust coming his way. He watched through his windshield as the cloud swallowed up riverbed and trees 500 feet up the mountainside and then shook his truck back and forth.

What he didn't notice until later was the grit had also carved out hundreds of tiny holes in his windshield.

"You could see all these little pits refracting the sunlight," he said.

Gerry Guay, a manager with the air quality monitoring section for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, measures dust levels in the Valley.

At times, the levels, which include particles far smaller than the diameter of a human hair, have topped more than 2,000 micrograms per cubic meter. Anything over 500 is considered very hazardous.

Guay has a monitoring station at the Butte fire station. He used to have another site at Colony High School in Palmer, but he took it down a couple of years ago after the wind blew over the trailer that housed the equipment.

The wind is not all bad. It dries out muddy ground and blows out stagnant air. It also blesses the Valley with rich farming land. The dust clouds are loaded with river silt, basically bits of rock ground down by the glacier that are full of minerals like iron and calcium. The wind deposits it all over Mat-Su.

And sometimes the wind finds a way to even the score.

Beth McKibben, the Palmer woman whose lawn chair was broken by the wind, once lost a garbage can during a windstorm. But she never had to find a replacement.

Another one blew into her yard.

S.J. Komarnitsky can be reached at skomarnitsky@adn.com or 907-352-6711.

 
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