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Wild winds and flying trees no problem for winter-hardy in Anchorage

Alaska Dispatch staff
ML&P work crew deals with a tree that downed a power line on Tudor a few blocks west of Lake Otis. Workers removed power lines and used a chain saw to cut away the tree.
Jill Burke photo
Damage from the freak storm that blew into Anchorage on Sept. 4, 2012. Picture taken in East Anchorage, near the Boniface Gate of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
Community photo
APD Officers control traffic at Arctic and Tudor, where lights were out.
Jill Burke photo
A tree lies fallen in a yard off of Grape Place in Midtown.
Jill Burke photo
A hiker revels in 100+ mph winds at Glen Alps on Tuesday, September 4, 2012.
Courtesy Josh Martinez Photography
The Veterans Memorial Flagpole lies on the ground after being knocked over by winds on September 5, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
State house candidate Cean Stevens was helping neighbors in Anchorage's Airport Heights neighborhood Wednesday by taking a chainsaw to fallen trees.
Amanda Coyne photo
A felled tree and badly damaged shed at Airport Heights.
Amanda Coyne photo
A felled tree in Fairview.
Courtesy Thomas Higgins
A windstorm in Anchorage Tuesday night uprooted trees all over town, including this one on Anchorage's Airport Heights neighborhood.
Christopher Kelliher photo
ML&P work crew deals with a tree that downed a power line on Tudor a few blocks west of Lake Otis. Workers removed power lines and used a chain saw to cut away the tree.
Jill Burke photo
Kamaki Wilson, age 18, works a machete to clear a downed tree that had fallen across the sidewalk west of Tudor Blvd. Wilson moved here 6 months ago from Hawaii and is no stranger to wind storms and fallen debris.
Jill Burke photo
Sign at Starbucks at Tudor and C St. -- to the disappointment of caffeine freaks.
Jill Burke photo

A night of wild and windy weather gave way to chilly rain for much of Wednesday, no comfort for the thousands of customers still without power across Anchorage, Alaska. But the sun peaked out late in the day and while it may not remain for long, at least Thursday's forecast only calls for 10 mph to 20 mph winds.  

Anchorage's two big utility companies scrambled to restore electricity for as many as 9,000 customers after a freak windstorm blasted Southcentral Alaska overnight Tuesday and left tens of thousands in the dark across Alaska's largest city. It was enough to prompt closure for Wednesday of some state government offices, Anchorage public schools and University of Alaska campuses in Anchorage, Eagle River and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. 

As many as 55,000 homes across the municipality lost power during the storm, including most of the 30,000 customers served by Municipal Light and Power and 25,000 customers in the Chugach Electric service area. Jim Posey, ML&P general manager, called it a "once in a generation kind of storm," one that knocked out all three of the utility's major transmission lines. Most ML&P customers had power restored by Wednesday afternoon

MORE: Thousands still in the dark

High winds more typical during winter proved much more devastating at this time of year and caught many unprepared. Powerful gusts ranged from 40 mph to 90 mph, according to the National Weather Service, turning trees into moving targets. Trees whipped, snapped and were uprooted in the wind. Trees came down on fences, garages and homes. Many in Anchorage awoke Wednesday to survey the damage, only to find themselves blocked in neighborhoods by fallen trees.

Transit troubles 

Windy weather plagued much of Southcentral Alaska, although Anchorage endured the worst of it. Seven commercial flights overnight Tuesday were rerouted to Fairbanks due to high wind, bogging down the airport there with hundreds of passengers in the middle of the night. 

On the ground, downed powerlines were a concern for Anchorage police Wednesday. Traffic lights were still out across town Wednesday afternoon, turning busy intersections into four-way stops.  

Wind and weirdness

The National Weather Service reported wind gusts ranging from 40 mph to 90 mph across the Anchorage Bowl. Other reports included:

  • On the Hillside, gusts may have exceeded 100 mph
  • A gust of 63 mph wind hit the Port of Anchorage after 10 p.m.
  • McHugh Creek in South Anchorage measured an 88 mph gust 
  • Potter Marsh registered 75 mph wind gusts
  • Near the Glen Alps parking lot, amateur meteorologist Joe Connolly recorded a 131 mph gust. An earlier report from the same location measured 103 mph winds.

"Our station is very accurate," Connolly wrote on the National Weather Service's Facebook page.  "The difference is in location. We have zero terrain obstructions and are fully exposed at the tip of a point on the hill. By comparison, our neighbor 50 feet below me and in the shadow of our house and hill, only maxed out at 78 during our 131 gust." 

Weird lights were also seen across the night sky. Many in Anchorage suspected seeing lightning behind the Chugach Range, yet National Weather Service meteorologist Dave Snider doubted it. Blasts of light in the sky more likely came from power transformers that popped over night.

Damages minimal despite storm's chaos

There were a few reports of minor damage caused by sustained winds: caps torn off chimneys, missing shakes from cedar-shake roofs, and limbs ripped off leafy cottonwood and birch trees. On the Hillside, this squall was nothing like last winter's devastating storms. Some residents noted the latter might have something to do with the apparent lack of fallout from this storm. Most of the weaker trees had already succumbed, and residents had learned how to batten down. A resident whose camper was ripped off his truck by the fierce winds last winter, for instance, parked the truck with the camper close against the lee side of his house to shade it from the winds this time.

Still, it was probably enough to make a mess of the potential for fall colors across the area. Taller and exposed trees were pretty much stripped of their leaves at elevations above 1,000 feet.