Fri, 02 Dec 2011 10:35 CST
Fri, 02 Dec 2011 10:35 CST
The fierce gusts that tore across Western states Thursday created a path destruction that closed schools and prompted some communities to declare emergencies.
The storms, described as a once-in-a-decade event, were the result of a dramatic difference in pressure between a strong, high-pressure system and a cold, low-pressure system, meteorologists said. This funnels strong winds down mountain canyons and slopes.
The system brought high wind warnings and advisories for California, Utah, Nevada, Wyoming, Arizona and New Mexico. The blustery weather was expected to next hit Oklahoma, Missouri and Indiana.
The violent winds eased but strong gusts still blew through the region Thursday night, at times reaching 60 mph in some California mountains.
Forecasters said the winds would continue Friday, but diminish as the day wore on.
"It looks like we're going to have winds, off and on, through the weekend," said NBC4 forecaster Byron Miranda from Los Angeles.
The winds were also fanning fires in northern California.
The Sacramento Bee reported that more than a dozen fires burned more than 130 acres in El Dorado County. Five fires had also destroyed more than 250 acres in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties.
In Southern California, the storm knocked out electricity to more than 350,000 utility customers. By early Friday, 270,000 of them were still without power.
Gusts, which reached 80 mph, were blamed for toppling semitrailers and causing trees to fall on homes, apartment complexes and cars.
A state of emergency was declared in Los Angeles County, where schools in a dozen communities were closed.
In some neighborhoods, concrete light poles cracked in half. Darkened traffic signals and fallen palm tree fronds and branches snarled traffic. At a Shell station, the roof collapsed into a heap of twisted metal.
Heaviest hit area
In heavily damaged Pasadena, schools and libraries closed and a local emergency, the first since 2004, was declared. Officials said 40 people were evacuated from an apartment building after a tree smashed part of the roof.
Pasadena is known for its historic homes and wide oak-lined streets that are frequently depicted in films.
"We still have large trees blocking streets and getting them removed is a priority today," said Lisa Derderian, emergency management coordinator for Pasadena.
About 200 buildings were damaged there. More than 40 buildings were red tagged, meaning they are not inhabitable.
"It will take weeks to get this stuff clear," contractor Tony Martinez told NBC Los Angeles. "We've got some crews, the city has some crews, so if we keep this up we're talking about a month or so."
Many residents Thursday blamed the city for protecting its old trees from over-trimming to such an extent that they have now become a public safety hazard.
Vince Mehrabian, the general manager at A&B Motor Cars, estimated eight Lexus, Cadillac and other luxury cars had been destroyed by fallen limbs. He said he'd been asking the city for four years to trim the trees more.
On a street around the corner, almost every tree was either cracked in half or missing limbs.
Elsewhere, San Diego's Anna Cearley posted on her Twitter feed how she was kept awake by the wind.
"Thought we were done with #winds in #SanJose but tonight is worse yet. Whistling so loud, can't sleep," she said on Friday.
Similar stories of downed trees and power lines echoed across the West. Areas hit hard:
On Interstate 15, strong gusts blew more than 10 semi-trucks onto their sides, prompting authorities to temporarily close the highway to trucks. Commuter train travel was also interrupted after debris covered the tracks.
Schools closed in Centerville, where a 102-mph gust was reported. Mail delivery and trash pickup were canceled.
Davis County issued a disaster declaration to request state assistance, citing more than $3.5 million in estimated damage to infrastructure.
The Red Cross opened three centers to provide food and aid to people affected by the storm, and opened one overnight shelter in Ogden.
Weather officials warned that blowing dust was creating visibility problems on a highway between Reno and Las Vegas.
In Steamboat Springs, the roof of a four-story condominium complex was blown off and about 100 trees were knocked over, some landing on homes. A ski area shut down its lifts after a gust of 123 mph.
Even some weather experts were surprised by the wind's force.
Msnbc.com's Sevil Omer and The Associated Press contributed to this report.