High winds knock out power across Whatcom County

John Stewart strings caution tape around his Eldridge Avenue property after a tree fell onto his house on Aug. 29, 2015 in Bellingham, Wash.
John Stewart strings caution tape around his Eldridge Avenue property after a tree fell onto his house on Aug. 29, 2015 in Bellingham, Wash. eabell@bhamherald.com

Gusty winds knocked down trees and sent branches into power lines Saturday, Aug. 29, knocking out power to much of western Whatcom County.

More than 300 outages across the county had been reported to Puget Sound Energy, affecting more than 10,000 customers. An estimate of when power would be restored wasn’t available in many areas. Given the number of outages, some people can expect a long wait for return of electricity.

The outages and their status can be tracked on the online PSE outage map.

Falling trees and branches, downed power lines and flying debris wreaked havoc on roads. Many were shut down by authorities as they became impassable or dangerous because of live lines.

Lori Jo Smith, 59, was at a stoplight at Lakeway and Woburn streets in Bellingham when a large tree limb fell on her car, a 2013 Toyota Avalon she had for two months.

“I heard a crush, then a loud bang and I felt pressure on my head,” Smith said.

An off-duty fireman, police officer and nurse in the area all rushed to help. Smith, a real estate agent, had minor injuries from the car’s airbag. Her client in the passenger’s seat was not injured.

A bicyclist was hit around 12:15 p.m. by a falling branch at Humboldt and Potter streets in the York Neighborhood, said Bellingham Fire Assistant Chief Bill Hewett. Less than an hour later, a man walking at the 3200 block of Northwest Drive was hit by a falling branch. Both were transported to the hospital with injuries that weren’t life-threatening, Hewett said.

From 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. Saturday, the Bellingham Fire Department responded to 46 calls. That is typically the number of calls over a 24-hour period in Bellingham, Hewett said.

At one point the danger was severe enough that authorities requested people avoid driving and stay indoors.

Many businesses closed Saturday because they had no electricity. The Bellingham Farmers Market at Depot Market Square ended early after vendors struggled to keep their products intact as the wind blew.

Wind also shortened or canceled many big events, including the Muds to Suds race, the Bellingham Skillshare Faire and Birch Bay Discovery Days.

Stoplights were out in multiple areas, including sections of downtown Bellingham. Some drivers neglected to treat the intersections as if they had stop signs, creating traffic jams and making other drivers irate.

The actual storm wasn’t extraordinarily strong. At Bellingham International Airport, sustained winds were recorded close to 40 mph with gusts as strong as 53 mph as of 4 p.m. Gusts were stronger in other spots around the county. A high wind warning from the National Weather Service remained in effect until 6 p.m.

Those numbers are fairly common from fall storms. What caused all the damage was this storm hit earlier in the year, when most trees were still full of leaves. Plus the drought has weakened many trees. Those factors led to more trees falling or breaking. As they did, they took out power lines.

While the rain is expected to continue on and off over the next few days, winds won’t be nearly as strong. Expect some breezy conditions, but winds should top out around 20 mph in the Bellingham area, according to the National Weather Service.