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December 1, 2011
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Windstorm knocks out trees and power at South Shore

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. - A strong wind storm pushed through the West Thursday, knocking downing numerous trees at the South Shore and wreaking havoc across several states.

The windstorms were the result of a dramatic difference in pressure between a strong, high-pressure system and a cold, low-pressure system, meteorologists said. The situation funnels strong winds down mountain canyons and slopes.

A weather station at Lake Tahoe Airport measured sustained winds of up to 25 mph, with gusts reaching 46 mph, Thursday afternoon. Wind speeds of more than 90 mph were recorded at the summit of Squaw Valley early Thursday morning.

The winds downed dozens of trees at the South Shore. There were several reports of trees falling on or near homes and a tree blocked traffic on Pioneer Trail near Al Tahoe Boulevard about 3:45 p.m.

Ed Cook's Tree Service alone had received about 20 calls for downed trees by Thursday afternoon.

"He's just running his little butt off, trying to save people's buildings and houses," said Cook's wife, Susan.

She's seen this before, saying the number of calls is "not common, but normal."

Ten trees had hit power lines by Thursday evening, with the first starting in the early morning hours, said Liberty Energy business manager Randy Kelly. Wind that was coming from the east likely played a role in the number of trees coming down.

"I think a big part of it is that we rarely see wind coming out of this direction," Kelly said.

The power company restored energy to about 600 customers in the Sierra Tract neighborhood at 9:42 a.m. after a tree downed power lines there.

A tree hit a power line on Angora Lake Road and caused a pole with a transformer on it to snap, Kelly said. Because it involves a transformer, the repair will take longer than most.

About 100 customers were still out of power Thursday evening. Energy should be restored by 5 p.m. Friday at the latest, Kelly said. A NVEnergy crew was brought up from Carson City to help Liberty Energy.

Blustery weather also contributed to a Lakeview Avenue boat house being knocked off its pier. Nearby resident Elias Klaich said he saw the boat house sitting upright, but partially submerged, Thursday morning. A pool table stuck out of the water nearby.

"I'd never seen anything like it," Klaich said. "I've never seen the waves that high either."

Up to five foot waves were expected through Thursday evening, with two to four foot waves Friday through Saturday, according to a wind advisory issued by the National Weather Service in Reno Thursday afternoon.

Northeast to east winds of 15 to 25 mph with gusts up to 40 mph are expected through 4 p.m. Saturday, according to the advisory.

Despite the downed trees and power problems, the South Shore fared well compared to other parts of the West.

High winds blew over at least six semitrailers before dawn on highways below the Cajon Pass in San Bernardino County, said California Highway Patrol Officer Mario Lopez.

More than 200,000 Southern California residents were also without electricity Thursday. About 26,000 customers were without power in the Santa Cruz Mountains of Northern California.

Police asked schools to close in the Central Valley city of Centerville, where the weather service reported a 102 mph gust. Mail delivery and trash pickup were canceled.

High winds ripped through Utah, overturning several semi-trucks on or near Interstate 15, and 54,000 customers were without power along the state's 120-mile Wasatch Front as high winds took down power lines.

Even some weather experts were surprised by the wind's force. "It's one of the strongest events that I can remember," said Brian Edwards, a meteorologist with Accuweather. "It's rather rare."

- Tribune reporter Dylan Silver and the Associated Press contributed to this story


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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Dec 1, 2011 09:09PM Published Dec 1, 2011 09:05PM Copyright 2011 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.