Friday, September 6, 2013
WALLA WALLA — Hundreds of people remained without power this morning after a brief, violent storm ripped through the area Thursday evening.
The storm first hit Milton-Freewater then struck College Place and Walla Walla about 5:20 p.m., blowing down trees, limbs and electrical lines that blocked streets, and lashing the area with rain driven nearly horizontal by 60-mph wind gusts.
But the tempest did not last long, moving out the area after less than an hour an on toward Dayton.
Steve Ruley, Walla Walla County public safety radio system supervisor, said half humorously that the storm was “100 minutes of hell,” with dispatchers logging 95 separate incidents in that space of time.
As of 7 a.m. today, 2,000 Pacific Power customers remained blacked out as crews worked to repair damage to electrical lines, said Tom Gauntt, utility spokesman. The blackouts were scattered throughout the Walla Walla and College Place areas, with 170 different instances counted as of this morning, he said.
The two other electrical utilities serving the area reported scattered power failures due to the storm but no blackouts as of today.
“We had lots of small power failures throughout the system, but no major outages,” said Scott Peters, Columbia REA manager for marketing and member services. “We’re all back up this morning.”
Tina Kain of Milton-Freewater Light and Power said there were “isolated power outages but it’s all back up. Crews are out working and there’s lots of cleanup now.”
The storm moved in from the south, going over Pendleton and Milton-Freewater then hitting College Place and Walla Walla before blowing eastward to Dayton.
A weather spotter in Milton-Freewater reported a peak gust of 65 mph at 5:20 p.m. and the weather station at Walla Walla Regional Airport recorded a peak gust of 61 mph at 5:32 p.m. before going offline. Total rainfall amounts from the Walla Walla airport station were unavailable this morning.
As the storm struck College Place, it downed large tree limbs that blocked Sixth Street at College Avenue, nearly striking a police car in the process. Reports of fallen trees and limbs blocking roadways quickly multiplied as the storm moved through.
Calls poured in “literally from all over the county,” Ruley said. “Fortunately we were adequately staffed. We had three people on and a supervisor but they were still slammed ... One of those calls was from me. I had a tree go down right under me with a live power line.”
The storm caused several community events to be canceled, including The Pink Glove Dance — and Human Pink Ribbon — video competition to raise money for breast cancer victims. The event, sponsored by Walla Walla Police Department, had been scheduled for 6 p.m. Borleske Stadium. Organizers said it will now be held 6 p.m. Monday at Eastgate Lions Park behind Kmart.
In Dayton, local photographer Scott Kirk reported that patrons at Ray’s Drive In on Main Street “got served up a little more than what was on the menu last night.”
A large tree limb broke off during the storm and landed on the eatery’s roof and a van that was waiting at the drive-up window, Kirk reported in an email. A power line also was dragged down with the limb, causing the van’s occupants to remain in the vehicle until Columbia County Fire District 3 responded.
“Luckily, no one was hurt,” he said.
Paula Moisio, business manager for Dayton School District, reported the storm produced high winds, lightning and rain and passed quickly.
“But the football game went on as scheduled,” she said.
According to the National Weather Service, the peak wind gust in Dayton during the storm was 37 mph.
Another casualty of the storm was a very large century-old tree that blew over and heavily damaged the home of Meri Slaughter on Highway 339, just south of the Stateline Road.
“It’s very impressive, I got home about 6 p.m. and it was down,” she said.
Tumultuous late-summer weather also struck elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest.
A motorcyclist riding on Interstate 5 survived a lightning strike Thursday as he was riding through Chehalis, according to The Associated Press. The 59-year-old man was treated locally for burns to his ears, then taken to a Seattle hospital where he was reported in satisfactory condition.
“It is amazing he is alive, walking, talking and didn’t crash his motorcycle,” Chehalis firefighter Steve Emrich said. “It was basically a direct hit right through the helmet.”
Northwest of Yakima, State Highway 410 was closed Thursday night due to several mudslides over the roadway, the Washington Transportation Department said. The slides hit nine miles west of the junction with U.S. Highway 12. Transportation officials did not know when the highway would reopen.
In southwest Washington, McFarland said not all of the heaviest rain in the Winlock and Toledo area fell near rain gauges. Nearby Centralia recorded 1½ inches in 12 hours, he said.
In Oregon, heavy rain, hail and winds gusting as high as 70 miles is being blamed for a partial roof collapse at a former Portland auto shop.
No one was hurt, the AP reported.
The National Weather Service said more than 1½ inches of rain fell in an hour northeast of Eugene in the Willamette Valley while hail the size of quarters and winds gusting to 70 mph were reported near the central Oregon city of Sisters.
“Golf ball-sized” hail was reported in Malheur County in southeast Oregon.
U-B staff writers Rachel Alexander, Alfred Diaz and Sheila Hagar contributed to this report.