Strong winds down trees, power lines in Southwest

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Some of the worst Santa Ana winds in years blasted through California, toppling trees and power lines and delaying flights as a low-pressure front threatened bring fierce gusts throughout Southwestern states, authorities said Thursday.

Northern Santa Ana winds sweeping down through canyons created gusts of up to 80 mph through the night, with a 97-mph gust recorded Wednesday night at Whitaker Peak in Los Angeles County. High gusts Thursday morning topped 60 mph.

The National Weather Service issued high wind warnings and wind advisories for parts of California, Utah, Nevada, and Arizona, New Mexico and Wyoming.

"What's driving this is a large, cold low-pressure system that's currently centered over Needles, Calif. The strong winds are wrapping around it," weather service forecaster Andrew Rorke said.

The system will sit and spin counter-clockwise over the area for the next day, although "it won't be quite as hellacious" as on Wednesday night, Rorke said.

The pressure front will then begin moving cross-country, eventually bringing blustery weather to Oklahoma, Missouri and Indiana, he said.

More than 250,000 customers in Southern California were without electricity Thursday morning and about 26,000 more in the Santa Cruz Mountains of Northern California. San Francisco was spared any blackouts but thousands elsewhere in the Bay area were in the dark.

In Southern California, 23 flights were diverted and several delayed beginning Wednesday at Los Angeles International airport because of severe crosswinds and debris on runways, officials said.

The winds had died down by Thursday morning but some delays were reported in both arriving and departing flights, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said.

Northeast of Los Angeles, foothill communities were hard hit as the winds swept down the San Gabriel Mountains.

Residents of Pasadena "are advised to stay home if possible until the wind situation improves because some roads are impassable," a city statement said.

Schools in Pasadena and nearby Arcadia closed their schools because of concerns about power problems and safety.

Trees — some more than 100 feet tall — crashed down in the suburbs Wednesday and landed on homes in Pasadena and near Beverly Hills, but no major injuries were reported. Several dozen people in Pasadena were evacuated from an apartment complex when a tree fell on it and smashed the roof.

A gas station in Pasadena was damaged overnight after a tree crashed onto the gas pumps, but an employee shut off the pumps and no fuel leaked.

"We probably have over 100 trees that are down and arcing wires and transformers that have blown," police Lt. Jari Faulkner told the Los Angeles Times.

The winds were colder but fiercer than the Santa Ana winds that often hit California in late fall, but they carried the same ability to dry out brush and push fires into conflagrations.

Los Angeles boosted its fire department staffing because of a red flag warning of high fire danger. Early Thursday morning, crews doused a 2-acre grass fire in a park near Occidental College. Downed power lines sparked the blaze in the midst of 80-mph wind gusts.

In northwestern Los Angeles County, sheriff's deputies rescued two men trapped on a dam spillway near a 200-drop. The men had gone sailing in a 10-foot boat Wednesday but gusting winds kicked up a 5-foot swell and they capsized. They clung to the boat as high winds pushed them to the dam, according to a Sheriff's Department statement.

They were rescued and treated for mild hypothermia, and one man, a former opera singer, was so appreciative that he serenaded the rescuers with "God Bless America," according to the statement.

In Wyoming, the prevailing winds usually come from the west but the storm is bringing winds from the northeast. The weather service said the shift in the winds could result in more damage than winds of the same magnitude from the normal direction.

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