Windy spring storm sweeps through Calif., Arizona

April 9, 2013 5:53:08 AM PDT
Powerful winds raked much of California on Monday, toppling trees, spreading wildfires, causing scattered power outages, whipping up blinding dust storms, and sending waves crashing ashore as a vigorous spring weather system swept through the state on its way across the West.

Rising winds were reported in Arizona, where 34 miles of Interstate 40 near Winslow were closed to traffic.

In Phoenix, blowing dust obscured the mountains surrounding the city, and at least four people were injured in a pileup when two semi-trucks jackknifed in a dust storm on I-10 in southern Arizona. The injuries were not life-threatening.

New Mexico was expected to start feeling the impact late Monday, and in Colorado, the blustery system was expected to bring up to 2 feet of snow.

Northern California was first to feel the lashing blasts, which spread to the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys.

At least a dozen trees came down in San Francisco, police officer John Tozzini told KGO-TV, which reported that more than 20,000 utility customers lost power in the region. Officials say a swath of electrical outages occurred across the Sacramento Municipal Utility District.

The wind sent a tree smashing into a Sacramento home where four friends were playing cards, but they didn't stop the game.

"It could've been worse," said Dodie Backus, who lives in the house.

"It's not going to stop our bridge game," said her game partner, Marilyn Baker.

The northwest-to-north winds were punctuated with gusts topping 80 mph at some Southern California points.

The blustery system was being fueled by a cold front.

"It's just a cold, really strong upper low," said Carol Smith, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard, Calif.

Whitecaps flecked the Pacific Ocean along the California coast, where gale warnings and small craft advisories were posted. Recreational boaters were warned to stay in port. Wind-driven swells slapped over the tops of breakwaters and turned waves into a churning froth under piers at points such as Redondo Beach and Manhattan Beach on the Los Angeles County coast.

The wind turned small wildfires into big problems in some areas, including a blaze in Fillmore about 50 miles northwest of Los Angeles that burned two homes and forced the evacuation of 84 homes.

Blowing dust forced the California Highway Patrol to close state Route 14 in the high desert Antelope Valley north of Los Angeles due to low visibility. Officer Michael Farrell said minor accidents occurred as motorists stopped and were hit from behind by other cars. No major injuries were reported.

The power went out for more than 14,000 customers in the Los Angeles area because of the winds.

Areas of the north San Fernando Valley experienced outages as tree branches tangled with power lines in at least two areas, said Michelle Vargas, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

Southern California Edison reported major weather-related outages throughout the San Gabriel Valley, with the lights out for thousands of customers in Rosemead, Monterey Park and Altadena.

In Ventura County, the power was out for more than 1,000 homes at the height of the winds, and nearly 300 homes in Orange County lost power.

About 2,700 homes were without power because of at least five downed utility poles in the remote desert area of Borrego Springs in San Diego County, according to Amber Albrecht, spokeswoman for San Diego Gas and Electric.

Air quality alerts were issued for northern Santa Barbara County and adjacent southern San Luis Obispo County because of blowing dust and sand.

The massive rush of air also had an upside. California's main power grid manager, the Independent System Operator, reported that turbines spinning within the ISO grid produced a record of 4,196 megawatts Sunday. The previous record was 3,944 megawatts on March 3.


Associated Press writers Greg Risling and John Antczak in Los Angeles; Paul Davenport and Walter Berry in Phoenix; and Colleen Slevin in Denver contributed to this story.