By Lukas Velush and Scott Pesznecker / Herald Writers
More than 35,000 area homes were without power Thursday evening as winds of up to 65 mph ripped across Whidbey and Camano islands and then fanned over Snohomish County.
The windstorm, expected to get stronger before daybreak, could be the biggest in 13 years, experts said. Just before 10 p.m., sustained winds of 39 mph were clocked at Paine Field. The fiercest gust was recorded at 53 mph, according to the National Weather Service.
Lightning took out several substations around 5 p.m., knocking the power out at about 30,000 homes, said Neil Neroutsos, a spokesman for the Snohomish County PUD.
The utility was able to return electricity to all but 7,000 of those homes by 7 p.m., but by 9:30 p.m. gusting winds had come roaring back, knocking the electricity out to 35,000 utility customers.
Neroutsos said at least 60,000 customers were affected by the outages.
“It’s pretty gusty,” Neroutsos said at about 9:30 p.m. “We have outages all over the county. The highest winds we’ve clocked are 65 mph in the Three Lakes area east of Snohomish.”
Most of the outages were in south and east Snohomish County, but that was expected to change as the evening wore on.
The wind and rain kept firefighters and police officers busy Thursday night in Snohomish County. Firefighters around the county were called for dozens of downed power lines and toppled trees.
In south Everett, a tree fell on an apartment. No one was inside and no one was reported hurt. In Lynnwood, police were called to more than a dozen road hazards as the heavy rain clogged storm drains and caused minor flooding on the roads.
A 3-foot-diameter tree fell through the roof of a house near the intersection of Mukilteo Boulevard and Seahurst Avenue, crashing into the dining room. People were home when the tree fell, but nobody was injured, according to the Everett Fire Department.
Another tree reportedly struck a home in south Everett near Silver Lake.
The Washington Department of Transportation reported trees blocking Paradise Lake Road east of Woodinville and McRae Road west of Arlington.
There were scattered outages all over Whidbey Island that started at dinnertime Thursday, Dorothy Bracken, a spokeswoman for Puget Sound Energy, said.
Strong wind gusts were ripping across north Camano Island by 8 p.m., pushing trees sideways and making signs tremble. Small limbs and branches were strewn across many streets on the island.
Several trees had already fallen and there had already been some small power outages by 8 p.m., said Jan Smith, a spokeswoman for the Island County Sheriff’s Department.
Waves as tall as 9 feet were expected to smash into the west side of Whidbey and Camano islands. The waves were expected to be fueled by sustained winds of up to 60 mph and gusts of up to 90 mph blasting in off the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
The highest winds on the west side of Whidbey and Camano islands were expected from 10 p.m. Thursday to 4 a.m. today, said Danny Mercer, a weather service meteorologist in Seattle.
Inland areas, including Everett and much of Snohomish County, were expected to be hit with sustained winds of 40 mph with gusts up to 65 mph. The highest winds were likely hit around midnight and were expected to calm down this morning.
Heavy rainfall was forecast, prompting the weather service to issue flood warnings for urban areas and along the Snoqualmie River where it enters Snohomish County near Monroe.
“This is almost certainly to be the strongest (windstorm) of the year and it could be the worst in several years if it hits just right,” Dennis D’Amico, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said.
On Jan. 1, 1993, Inauguration Day, 66-mph winds knocked out power to 175,000 homes in the worst storm on record for the PUD. It took 10 days to fully restore electricity. At the worst point, 80 percent of the county’s homes were in the dark.
The Snohomish County chapter of the American Red Cross geared up to respond to areas of the hit by the windstorm. Plans were readied for opening emergency shelters today if necessary.
On Thursday afternoon, PUD work crews hunkered down for a long night. Many were still worn out from working around the clock to restore power service after the series of wind, rain and snow storms that arrived in November.
“We’re ramping up in every way we can,” said Brian Cobb, a superintendent in the PUD’s energy control center, the south Everett office where the utility coordinates its response to outages.
“These guys are tired. Everyone at the PUD is tired,” Cobb said.
Eleven extra work crews were headed to Snohomish County Thursday afternoon as the utility competed with other utilities around the region to line up extra help.
More supplies also were on the way.
“We’re having some copper wire overnighted in because we ran out in the last storm,” said Mike Bellman, foreman at the PUD’s supply warehouse. “You do what you can when you have a storm.”
Bellman said warehouse workers were preparing crates of wire and other equipment needed for restoring power.
As the storm approached, concerns grew for emergency officials in Island County.
Many people now live along the scenic coasts of Whidbey and Camano islands, Smith said.
The sheriff’s department urged people to prepare.
Residents in low-lying areas were told to tape or board up windows and get keepsakes and valuables to higher ground.
Heavy storm damage was feared because the strong winds were expected to come out of the west, which is unusual, Smith said.
Usually the wind comes from the south. Most properties are built to resist winds from the south, she said.
In February – the day before the Seahawks played in the Super Bowl – beachside homes on Camano Island were damaged when fierce winds drove large waves over shoreline bulkheads, flooding neighborhoods and pelting homes with driftwood.
This storm was expected to be much worse, according to forecasts.
Since February’s high winds, Island County emergency planners have been meeting with homeowner associations and community groups to discuss the dangers that come with windstorms.
“We wanted them to understand that they have to take care of themselves, too,” said Mike Simmons, emergency planner with the county Department of Emergency Management. “There’s only so much we can do for them. They can do far more by themselves to be ready.”
The Island County Department of Emergency Management planned to monitor the storm through the night, Simmons said.
“We have a lot of rural roads, a lot of trees, curves, and it can be very dangerous,” he said. “Especially in the dark and with obstacles falling into the road.”
The Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management opened its emergency operations center to monitor the storm. Fire districts in Camano Island, Granite Falls and Everett also planned to open their emergency operations centers.
Herald writers Diana Hefley and Sharon Salyer contributed to this report. Reporter Lukas Velush: 425-339-3449 or firstname.lastname@example.org.