A snarling windstorm blasted into Utah Friday afternoon, knocked down trees, closed I-15 near Cedar City, huffed a small plane off a runway, disrupted electrical service and blew out windshields.
In downtown Salt Lake City, the gusts were so strong that a banner luring the Olympics was ripped from all but one of its moorings on a street light and waved madly. Dust sheets flew from a construction site on State Street, accompanied by stinging, scattered raindrops.Elsewhere in the state, the blow was even stronger.
Alex Smith, meteorologist for the National Weather Service, said a severe thunderstorm watch was in effect, and a high-wind warning was also in place.
The strongest gusts reported were 62
Please see WIND on A2
mph at Wendover, about 13 mph below the threshold of a hurricane.
The raging dust storm was so severe on I-15 that for about an hour the Utah Highway Patrol blocked all lanes of the freeway from Beaver to the Lunt Park rest area. The wind was so severe that dust cut visibility to less than 20 feet for about three miles.
"We had a lot of fender benders involved, but nothing really major," said Ron Johnson, Utah Highway Patrol dispatcher in Cedar City. "We did have one injury accident, and it turned out to be fairly minor . . . They actually ran into the back of a semi (truck) that had slowed down."
Iron County deputy sheriffs told the Highway Patrol that 14 cars had collided and blocked the highways, but there were no injuries.
After the freeway was closed, officers reopened the route, using "pilot cars" to guide convoys of drivers. "They get a group of cars and they take them through at the same pace . . . That way we don't have any more accidents," Johnson said.
Gary Hatch, spokesman for Hill Air Force Base, said security police at the base reported 11 vehicles were damaged by high winds. "Some of them have damaged windows or windshields and some of them received other damage," he said. They were near Building 1515, which is on a ridge.
William J. Alder, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service office at Salt Lake International Airport, said a microburst was probably to blame for the damage at Hill. "A microburst is a strong downburst from a thunderstorm cell," enhancing the storm's already-high winds.
"It might put it (wind speed) up to 60 or 70" miles per hour, he said.
At the Salt Lake airport, the wind blew a small airplane off the runway. "A crosswind came and blew him off," Alder said. "They had a heck of a time getting him out of the mud."
In Delta, wind hit 58 mph; Salt Lake Airport, 56 mph; Hill Air Force Base, 53; Randolph, 56; Cedar City, 51; Centerville, 50.
The trouble isn't over for Utah. "As long as that (Pacific storm system) sits out there (in Nevada), we're liable to have showers in our area, and some of them could be pretty strong," Smith said.
"In the windy areas people should secure loose objects, and they should be wary, when they're traveling, of strong crosswinds." That's especially true for people towing boats or driving in high-profile vehicles like tall campers, which are affected more strongly by wind.
"It's windy on Lake Powell and on Flaming Gorge Reservoir, so that's going to make it tough for boats - rough water," Smith said.
Dave Eskelsen, spokesman for Utah Power & Light Co., said widely scattered outages hit the Wasatch Front. The largest was from 100 South to 900 South and 1100 West to Main Street. It was apparently caused when tree limbs crossed distribution lines, bringing them so close together that electricity arced between them, causing a circuit breaker to trip or a fuse to blow.
Power was out a little less than an hour in that, the worst outage.