Wind direction blamed for outages, blowdown

It was a change in wind direction that made Tuesday’s wind storm different from one that crippled South Whidbey on Oct. 16.

Trees used to taking winds from the south-southwest were hammered from the north-northwest Tuesday, sending scores of them falling. In the process, the falling trees took down power lines, crushed buildings and even killed a man driving through South Whidbey State Park.

The man who has to clean up after every one of these storms, South Whidbey Island County Road Shop supervisor Myron Gabelein, knew why the damage was so bad.

“About every 10 years you get a north-northwest wind,” he said.

Gabelein said Whidbey Island typically takes the brunt of storms that come from the south-southwest. On Tuesday, roads south of Highway 525 had the greatest amount of fallen trees. As a result, some Island County road crews had to work clearing blowdown until 2:30 a.m. Some of the worst roads for downed trees and branches were Bailey, Maxwelton, Ewing, Bayview and Cultus Bay roads.

In addition to roads being almost undrivable, homes and businesses all over South Whidbey were cold and dark due to a lengthy power outage. Tim Bader, a spokesman for Puget Sound Energy, said approximately 12,000 customers on Whidbey Island lost power Tuesday. He said the largest contributor to the outage was a tree that went down on Central Whidbey. It fell on a power line that connects four substations.

“You could’ve drawn a line where it was cut in half,” Bader said.

He said some South Whidbey residents did not have power until Wednesday afternoon, almost 24 hours from the time it went out.

Despite the two prolonged power outages South Whidbey faced in October, Bader said a number of smaller power outages has definitely been avoided through Puget’s tree trimming program, something the company has pushed since the late 1990s.

“It could’ve been a lot worse without it,” he said.

Since 2000, Puget Sound Energy has — according to its own statistics — reduced the number of power outages throughout its system by 12 percent. In that time, the company and contractors working for PSE trimmed 175,000 trees and removed 22,600 trees threatening power lines along 2,282 miles of power lines.

Regardless of the trimming, Bader said the possibility of power outages is just reduced, and has never been eliminated. Many of the trees that fell this week were also outside the boundaries of the tree trimming program, he said. In storms every year it is typical there is a natural cleansing of dead or weak branches and trees.

Also affected by the weather was the Clinton-Mukilteo ferry run. Boats on the run stopped running betweeen 5:40 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. when crashing waves partially demolished Ivar’s restaurant in Mukilteo. The ferry runs resumed when it was determined that the damage was limited to the restaurant, which is adjacent to the Mukilteo dock.

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