Remembering the winds of 2011: Utah's 'most devastating wind event' in decades happened 1 year ago

Published: Friday, Nov. 30 2012 6:45 p.m. MST

A golfer plays near a large piece of tree trunk nearly one year after a wind storm took down roughly 500 trees at Davis Park Golf Course in Fruit Heights on Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

FRUIT HEIGHTS — It's been a year since hurricane-force winds howled in Davis County, toppling thousands of trees and power lines, cutting paths of devastation along city streets and damaging emergency communication systems.

As recently as last week the windstorm was continuing to claim victims, with ravaged trees being pulled out of the Davis Park Golf Course to make way for new plantings.

The winds began their havoc in the early morning hours of Dec. 1 and did not abate for nearly two days.

More than a dozen schools closed. Highways were idled.

Households and businesses from Salt Lake City north to Ogden were plunged into darkness in the chill of early December — some darkened for days — while crews maneuvered through the wooden wreckage of felled limbs and severed trunks to reach power poles in backyards.

"We've had these events through the years, these high winds," said Centerville assistant police chief Paul Child. "This one was sustained for a longer period of time. The high velocity wind just kept coming and coming and coming."

The 2011 Davis County windstorm far eclipsed the public damage wrought by Salt Lake City's freak tornado in August of 1999, which federal emergency officials say caused about $700,000 in damage to infrastructure once the bills were tallied.

"This was the most devastating wind event that we have seen in decades in Utah in terms of debris and cleanup," said Joe Dougherty, spokesman for the Utah Division of Emergency Management. "We are fortunate that nobody was killed and that Davis County is more prepared to deal with these events in the future."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursed Davis County $3.6 million for damage to infrastructure alone — ripped up sidewalks, ruined police cars and school buses, damaged communication towers and for the replacement of hundreds of traffic signs and power poles. When insurance kicked in, $6.1 million was paid to repair or replace government property plundered by the wind, said Davis County emergency manager Ellis Bruch.

In Bountiful, for example, a report logs that 19 different city-owned facilities were damaged, 84 wooden power poles and 22 transformers were destroyed or had to be replaced, and 5,000 feet of power lines was impacted by the wind.

"It was amazing," said Aric Jensen, director of planning and economic development for Bountiful. "I've never seen anything like that."

Winds at 102 mph were clocked in Centerville — or the equivalent of a Category 2 hurricane.

Child noted that the roof on the public works facility's salt shed on the east side of Legacy Highway was completely blown off, hurled across all four lanes and the highway's median to land on the other side.

The city's mayor, too, joined other residents in Davis County who were trapped for a time in their homes by trees collapsed on roofs, poking into living rooms and kitchens, or trees and limbs slammed on top of cars.

"In one sector of the city, at the north end, 100 percent of the homes had damage," Child said.

Bruch said when the ensuing whirlwind of private property damage claims were filed,  the insurance industry paid out $75 million in Davis County alone to home and business owners for damage incurred in the two day windstorm.

The wind caused its share of disruptions in Salt Lake City and north into Ogden — where Weber State University students were knocked to the ground by strong gusts and flying debris prompted the closure of its main campus.

Davis County, however, was hardest hit, with its sloping mountains and multiple canyons that propelled the maelstrom to cities below.

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