Crews restoring power after storm

Crews restoring power after storm
John and Colleen Crawford sent in this photo of a wind-whipped wave splashing over the front of a ferry on the Mukilteo run Thursday afternoon.
SEATTLE -- More than 310,000 homes and businesses lost electricity, a kite boarder died on Lake Washington and the Hood Canal floating bridge was closed temporarily in the first major storm of the season in Western Washington.  And even though the storm produced gusts that had been expected in the forecast leading up to the high winds, the way the storm shook out has still left weather forecasters scratching their heads.
Utility crews scrambled overnight to restore power after winds gusted to 66 mph at the height of the storm Thursday. A woman was injured when the top of a tree hit her in the head, a fire official said.

A Seattle police patrol boat, responding to an emergency call of a kite boarder being dragged north on Lake Washington, found a 44-year-old man floating face down off Kirkland on the east side of the lake, Officer Jeffrey R. Kappel said. The man was rushed to Harborview Medical Center but could not be revived.

At the height of the storm, utility spokesmen said, hundreds of thousands of customers lost power. Extra repair crews had been mustered in anticipation of the storm and restored electricity to all but about 29,000 or fewer.

Puget Sound Energy spokeswoman Dorothy Bracken said 162,000 customers lost power during the storm. Among public utilities, the Snohomish County Public Utility District reported 85,000 customers in the dark, Seattle City Light had 40,000, Tacoma City Light had 23,000 and the Grays Harbor County PUD had 3,500.

Power was restored to just about everyone by Friday afternoon.

Strong winds resulted in a three-hour precautionary closure of State Route 104 across Hood Canal, which separates the Kitsap and Olympia peninsulas. High winds can cause the concrete pontoons to move and high waves splash passing cars. The current floating bridge is a replacement for one that sank during a storm in 1979.

The highest gusts reported Thursday in the storm were 66 mph at Alki Point, the westernmost tip of Seattle, and 62 mph in Spanaway, a suburb south of Tacoma.

A woman was injured by the top of a cottonwood tree that broke off in high winds about 2 p.m. as she stood near her car in a shopping center in Kent, south of Seattle, said Fire Capt. Kyle Ohashi. The woman was hospitalized for treatment of head injuries.

In Seattle, Erin Condit narrowly escaped injury when a tree landed on her Toyota Tercel as she was parking. She said she dived under the dashboard as the tree hit and the fallen limbs were cut away from the car by a tree trimmer who had been working nearby.

Also in Seattle, the top half was blown off a 55-foot glass and metal sculpture called Vessel that was under construction at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

In the Maple Valley area, south-southeast of Seattle, a power line fell on a Cedar River Middle School bus loaded with about 40 children, according to a Tahoma School District spokesman.

The bus driver reported seeing a flash while driving along State Highway 169 and pulled over, spokesman Kevin Patterson said. The children, uninjured, were able to walk off the bus and many called their parents on cellular telephones.

Augusta Foster was inside her Steilacoom home when the first strong winds sent a large tree smashing through the center of her house.

"I was pretty shook up," she said. "I didn't know where to go because I didn't know what trees were falling."

No one was injured, but Foster's house suffered extensive damage.

Meteorologists Still Scratching Heads Over Storm
One of the biggest thrills and challenges of being a weather forecaster is: It's never the same day twice, and just when you think you've got it all figured out, Mother Nature comes along and throws in another curveball.

A day after strong winds blew through the Puget Sound area, meteorologists are still scratching their heads over how exactly the storm played out. For instance, there's still no consensus of when the center of the storm actually came inland.

Overall, the storm's effects were on par with expectations -- wind speeds of 40-50 mph in the Puget Sound area and North Interior Thursday afternoon and evening.

But behind the scenes, it was quite the crazy day.  Almost all windstorms make the center of the storm obvious on the satellite image.  But this one didn't -- there was very little cloud and rain development around the center. In fact, most of the rain was to the north and east of the center, making it appear the storm center was farther north than it actually was.  

The winds picked up in the Puget Sound area around 2 o'clock-- the winds here typically don't increase until the storm is passing directly to our north -- while many signs pointed to the storm still offshore.

Then, amidst all of that, the Olympic Rain Shadow came out in full force. Here is a visible satellite of the state at 2 p.m. yesterday.

At that moment, winds are gusting to 50 mph in Tacoma, to 40-45 mph in Seattle and Everett, and the sun is out in Sequim and across the entire northeast Olympic Peninsula.  Is the storm center that hook in the clouds just off the northwest coast? Or is it already over Bellingham? Hmmm...

Temperatures were all over the place as well. Hoquiam's temperature went up 9 degrees in 17 minutes as something (warm front?) passed by.

At 4 o'clock, the wind gusted to 51 mph in Bellingham. Over across the water in Friday Harbor, the wind was ripping along at a whopping 5 mph. Sequim? Still sunny...

As to what caused the zaniness, this storm did have some influence from Tropical Storm Lingling.  Anytime you add in tropical energy, it can make for an interesting storm.

Or, maybe it was something more complex. University of Washington Atmospheric Sciences Professor Greg Hakim hypothesized that this storm could be a "diabatic Rossby vortex".  Wow, talk about complex! It has to do with a storm that develops near the surface. (If you're brave, Google the term. It really exists). The surface development would explain why it didn't show up that well on infrared satellite, which uses temperature to "see", as the clouds would have been warmer and closer to the surface, so we don't see the usual cold cloud tops of a developing storm.

Anyway, just goes to show how complex the weather really is around here.

One last thing -- in the days leading up to the storm, I was talking about the "pressure gradient" -- the measure of difference in pressure between two points. For windstorms, we keep an eye on the difference in pressure between Portland and Bellingham. A typical windstorm gets to around 8mb difference, but last December, we set a record at 22.3 mb.  We were thinking this storm would end up around 13-15, but the peak number ended up being just 11.5. Goes to show just how impressive that December storm was.

How else does it compare to last December's storm?

Here's a chart of peak wind gusts from both storms.

  10/18/07 12/14/06
Ocean Shores 56 70
Seattle (Sea-Tac) 53 69
Everett 56 66
Tacoma 58 69
Oak Harbor 49 69
Bellingham 51 55
Seattle (Alki Beach) 66 67
520 Bridge 58 63
Olympia 46 53
Shelton 47 53
Renton 46 51
Seattle (Magnolia) 54 58
Seattle (Boeing Field) 41 56