Scenes from the wind storm in Whatcom County
An estimated 12,000 Puget Sound Energy customers remained without power late Thursday afternoon, March 10, after a powerful storm blew through Whatcom County.
PSE was not providing estimates of how long it would take to restore power to areas. Few outages had been been repaired as of 5:45 p.m., based on PSE’s outage map.
Only a handful of outages on the online map had crews assigned. Most still listed the status as “outage reported,” which often means no estimate of when a repair crew will even get there.
PSE spokeswoman Akiko Oda said she would return a Bellingham Herald call inquiring how many crews had been assigned to Whatcom County and how long the company estimates it will take to restore all electricity. Instead, she sent an email that didn’t answer those questions and provided little new information.
“We’re seeing many small pockets of outages scattered across the area,” Oda’s email said. “These restoration work can be labor intensive since each outage is only affecting small number of customers.”
She did note that crews from Canada have been brought in to help.
Another PSE spokesperson, however, said the primary reason that repair estimates were unavailable is that officials simply don’t know how long repairs will take. The wind was so strong and the damage was so widespread that crews in the field have been unable to provide estimates.
Wind gusts reached nearly 70 mph at Bellingham International Airport on Thursday morning. A trained weather spotter who lives northeast of Bellingham at about the 400-foot elevation recorded a wind gust of 80 mph at 7 a.m., according to the Twitter account for Bellingham Weather. Another spotter reported an 81 mph gust in Edgemoor. That would be the highest reported gust around the city.
Many businesses were closed some or all of Thursday because they had no power. Much of Ferndale’s business core was closed at least until noon Thursday as the area suffered a widespread power outage. That was among the first outages PSE repaired.
Winds tore off the front of the Home Depot store on Telegraph Road off Meridian Street. The Bellingham store opened anyway, but customers had to enter through the lumber side and avoid the garden side for safety reasons.
Meridian High School and Acme and Kendall elementary schools canceled classes Thursday, as did Whatcom Community College. Given the number of outages, it’s possible some schools could remain closed Friday; students should check ahead Friday morning. Meridian announced late Thursday afternoon it expected to hold classes on normal schedules Friday.
Whatcom County and Bellingham public works crews spent the day clearing trees and debris from roads. Many roads were closed or had limited access part of the day because of downed trees, tree limbs, fallen power lines or flooding.
Trees fell across southbound Interstate 5 at Northwest Avenue shortly before 9 a.m., blocking all lanes. A tree fell across Mount Baker Highway, near Glacier at Coal Creek Road, and blocked traffic until crews removed it shortly before 8 a.m.
Along coastal Birch Bay, waves whipped by the winds crashed onto roads, forcing the closure of Birch Bay Drive.
A rock slide blocked Chuckanut Drive south of Bellingham.
Mt. Baker Ski Area was closed on Thursday because of high winds. According to the ski area’s website, a wind gust at Panorama Dome hit 109 mph. Winds were at a consistent 80 mph in the Heather Meadows area, according to the report. The ski area was planning to reopen Friday, March 11.
U.S. Coast Guard crews from the Bellingham station rescued three fishermen whose boat broke loose from its mooring early Thursday.
While the winds died down Thursday afternoon, road crews and police were still reporting more lines down as broken tree limbs fell.
PSE reminded customers to avoid power lines because they still could be energized. Safety advocates also warned not to use a grill indoors for heat and to make sure generators don’t vent into a home.
Traffic lights were out on several roads, including intersections along Guide Meridian and Hannegan Road. Some drivers forgot to treat the intersections as four-way stops, though few crashes were reported.
Ferry service was suspended in the morning between Lummi Island and Gooseberry Point but was restored by afternoon.