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‘It looks like a war zone’: Destructive winds wreak havoc in northern Utah

Power in some areas could be out for days as Utahns prepare to clean up; 1 ‘weather-related fatality’ reported

Volunteers remove a tree blocking a street in the Avenues in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020.
Volunteers remove a tree blocking a street in the Avenues in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

FARMINGTON — DeAnna Stallings woke up about 3 a.m. Tuesday to what she described as a “whole bunch of crashes and bangs.”

Her neighbor’s trampoline flipped over their fence and a large tree was blown over into the entry of their daughter’s basement apartment.

“I don’t think I’ve experienced anything like it,” she said. “It was a scary night with loud noises and things hitting the house. I kept thinking about people who live where there are tornadoes all the time. I don’t know how they do it. I was really scared and I don’t get nervous about the weather and things like that.”

Stallings lives in Millville, Cache County. But residents from Cache County south to Utah County reported similar experiences Tuesday as hurricane-force winds brought widespread damage.

Intermountain Healthcare reported one “weather-related fatality,” and at least 12 people with minor injuries connected to the wind were treated and released. No additional details were provided about the death.

The weather also forced the closure of schools in Salt Lake, Davis and Weber counties, and knocked out electricity to nearly 200,000 customers — some of which could be without power for two or three days.

Stallings, who is a vice principal at Ridgeline High School, said her drive to work was lined with uprooted trees, branches and other debris.

“It looks like a war zone,” she said. “This windstorm was insane.”

The roots of a tree felled by high winds lifted a car into the air in Millcreek on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020.
The roots of a tree felled by high winds lifted a car into the air in Millcreek on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson said she was “frankly quite surprised” by the extent of the damage she saw Tuesday. She and other county leaders planned to huddle Tuesday evening to determine whether to make an emergency declaration.

Centerville Mayor Clark Wilkinson signed a declaration of emergency for his hard-hit city Tuesday afternoon. South Salt Lake Mayor Cherie Wood followed suit, announcing her emergency declaration over Facebook

“It has been a long, tough day for many of our residents and businesses. This extreme wind event, that will continue into this evening, has left destruction all across the City,” she said. “Many are still without power, myself included. Check on those around you, make sure they are safe, and that basic needs are met.”

Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox was also out surveying damage across northern Utah. He said thousands of trees were down across the state, and a record 45 semitrailers had been blown over on Utah highways.

Trees fell onto homes, businesses and vehicles, with some rupturing gas and water lines when they were uprooted, Cox said. Some of those ruptured lines flooded basements. The damage at trailer parks in Davis County was particularly bad.

Cox said Tuesday’s storm is similar to the damage caused by the wind event in December of 2011 that was centered in Davis County.

“This is very similar in the devastation but it is much larger in scope, extending for a much wider swath of the Wasatch Front,” he said.

Cox believes the state will be making an emergency declaration, possibly by Tuesday night or Wednesday morning.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall signed yet another emergency declaration on Tuesday for her city. The storm as of midday Tuesday had downed or badly damaged “hundreds, if not more than 1,000” trees in Utah’s capital.

Aside from the destruction Salt Lake City saw from a tornado in 1999, Mendenhall said Tuesday’s windstorm was unlike anything the city has experienced in recent memory.

“Not in a sustained way like this,” Mendenhall said. “Our urban forester has remarked that these are tornado-like circumstances, but instead of being in a path of destruction, it’s everywhere.”

The mayor’s emergency declaration immediately closed many of the city’s public parks that the mayor said “need urgent tree removal and, frankly, are not safe places to be given the fact the storm isn’t over.”

The parks ordered closed through Wednesday, at a minimum, include Fairmont Park, Jordan Park, Liberty Park, Sunnyside Park, Pioneer Park, Riverside Park, Rosewood Park, Cottonwood Park, Warm Springs Park, Lindsey Gardens, Washington Square Park, City Creek Canyon and the Salt Lake City Cemetery.

A semitractor-trailer rests on a guardrail after being blown over by high winds on Legacy Highway between Centerville and Farmington on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020.
A semitractor-trailer rests on a guardrail after being blown over by high winds on Legacy Highway between Centerville and Farmington on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

It’s not over

Some truck drivers were injured when their rigs were blown over. At least one homeowner suffered cuts when a tree fell onto their house, breaking the windows and sending glass shards flying.

Cox encouraged residents to stay safe and stay inside.

“The cleanup can wait,” he said.

That was a message reiterated by Salt Lake County Emergency Manager Clint Mecham, who noted the high wind warning remains in effect until Wednesday.

“This is an ongoing event. I can’t stress that enough,” he said Tuesday afternoon. “Please understand this event is not over.”

The National Weather Service in Salt Lake City warned that strong winds would likely return.

“We are NOT out of the woods yet!” the agency tweeted. “We’ll see a relative lull thru the early evening, though 40-50 mph gusts remain possible. Winds ramp up again late this eve, w/ 75+ mph gusts possible for Farmington & Centerville thru early morning,” the agency tweeted just before 2 p.m.

Wind speeds from the powerful storm blowing in from the north reached up to 97 mph at Logan Peak on Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service, while most of Davis, Box Elder, Weber and Cache counties reported sustained winds between 70 mph and 80 mph.

A gust of 99 mph was recorded at U.S. 89 and Park Lane in Farmington. Another 97 mph gust was recorded in Farmington and a 91 mph gust in Salt Lake City, the weather service reported.

At the height of outages Tuesday, an estimated 170,000 Rocky Mountain Power customers were without power in Utah, plus another 10,000 in Wyoming and 3,000 in Idaho. As of 10 p.m. that number had come down to more than 134,000 customers out of service on the Wasatch Front.

“This is clearly one of the most severe wind storms this area has suffered in the past 40 years,” Rocky Mountain Power officials said in a statement. “Rocky Mountain Power is encouraging all customers to be prepared for prolonged power outages with adequate food, water, backup batteries, power banks, etc.”

A spokesman for Rocky Mountain Power said some customers along the Wasatch Front, particularly those along the east benches from Salt Lake to Box Elder County, could be without power for 48 to 72 hours.

The power company said it could not give an estimate on when power would be restored due to the extensive number of outages and downed power lines, and because a high wind warning is in effect until 9 a.m. Wednesday,

Parts of northern Utah are also expecting a hard freeze Tuesday night.

“Power crews are working hard to restore power, however, it is unlikely that all power will be restored by then. In order to conserve water during this cold period, the city is asking residents to turn off irrigation and secondary water,” Ogden police said. “Also, for those using alternate heating or generators due to the power outage, please ensure more than adequate ventilation to reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.”

State and local officials urged residents not to get near any downed power lines and to treat all lines like they are still charged.

To help those who will be without power for an extended period of time, “warming centers” have been set up in Salt Lake County at the Northwest Recreation Center, 125 W. Clark Ave.; a warehouse for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at 808 E. Roosevelt Ave.; the Millcreek Community Center, 2266 E. Evergreen Ave.; and a Latter-day Saint meetinghouse at 3650 W. 4400 South.

In Salt Lake City, two emergency shelters are available for people needing somewhere to sleep overnight, including the Sorenson Multi-Cultural Center, 855 W. California Ave., set to open for up to 40 people, and the Christ United Methodist Church, 2375 E. 3300 South, for 30 people.

Mendenhall said the Sorenson Center, “like so many in the city right now, does not have power currently,” but it can accommodate people who need a place to sleep with cots and mats. She said dinner and breakfast will also be provided.

Helping neighbors

Although state and local leaders encouraged residents to wait until Wednesday to start the cleanup for safety reasons, many still got out to check on their neighbors, something state leaders are also encouraging residents to do, especially for elderly or disabled residents.

Eric Dehaan, who lives in the Avenues, was helping one of his elderly neighbors clean up their property Tuesday afternoon. He called the windstorm and the damage it caused “really sad” and said he considered moving away from the area before realizing other places experience similar destructive events.

“Where can you go, you know? Everywhere has tornadoes or earthquakes or wind,” he said. He is planning to continue helping his neighbors repair and rebuild — a common theme among residents: helping their less fortunate neighbors.

“You can tell it’s emotional for me, but we’ll get through it,” he said.

Jeff Maudlin was also out helping his neighbors.

“We’re in relatively good shape, right? Our driveway is blocked, that’s about it. I mean, it is a mess, but I worry more about our neighbors,” he said, pointing to a house with significant damage. “I mean, she had part of her roof blow off, so I’m worried more about people who are really affected.”

Jay Wilkerson, who is also in the Avenues, said he was taken off guard by the intensity of the storm.

“These trees take a beating — these sycamores — and they shed quite a bit, but losing that whole, that’s probably about a 100-year-old tree right there,” he said, pointing to a downed tree. “That’s intense. I wasn’t expecting that.”

It was a sentiment shared by 17-year-old Tane Williams.

“People are very disappointed in their huge spruce trees, evergreen trees having fallen over,” he said, referencing one of his neighbor’s trees. “That belongs to this person here. Very, very devastating to lose that great old tree, probably 80 to 90 years old.

“You hate to see that kind of greenery go down, because it takes so many years to grow. So it’s a sad loss, without question. I feel very badly for the neighbors that have lost wonderful old trees.”

Cox tweeted that eight “historic trees” had been blown over on the state Capitol grounds. “Just received a reported gust of 112 mph at the UofU!” he also tweeted.

Gov. Gary Herbert followed with his own tweet shortly after announcing the Capitol grounds would be closed.

“Due to high winds and dangerous conditions around the building, we are closing the Capitol building to state employees today. Stay home and safe,” he tweeted.

Downed power lines forced Utah Transit Authority to set up a bus bridge between its Woods Cross and North Temple stations for FrontRunner. The company warned customers to expect major delays systemwide. By afternoon, the bridge was removed and FrontRunner and buses were operating.

TRAX service, however, was shut down because of power outages. UTA hoped to restore TRAX service Wednesday morning.

The Utah Highway Patrol restricted travel for semitrailers in Box Elder, Weber and Davis counties “after a number have blown over,” the UHP tweeted Tuesday morning. “We also have several trees and low power lines partially blocking highways and interstates in the area.”

Dozens of semis could be seen parked and lined up along the I-15 freeway Legacy Highway in Bountiful.

Restrictions on trucks were expected to be put back in place overnight into Wednesday as winds returned.

U.S. 89 in Davis County was also shut down because of downed trees, branches, power lines and other debris.

State and local officials encouraged residents to wait until Wednesday to start the big cleanup. Centerville announced sites throughout the city where green waste could be taken.

Salt Lake City urged residents to report fallen trees and other wind damage online at slc.gov/wind-damage-faqs, but Mendenhall said Tuesday the city was not yet prepared for people to “haul their branches or debris out into the road for pickup.” She said city officials will let residents know when they have the capacity.

Schools were also affected on Tuesday. The Salt Lake City School District canceled its first day of classes about 30 minutes after schools started due to power outages. The district also canceled classes for Wednesday since more than half of its schools still had no power Tuesday evening.

Weber State University and the University of Utah also canceled all classes Tuesday, but classes will be held Wednesday.

Contributing: Trent Toone, Katie McKellar, Alex Cabrero

Nick Lee does a flip turn on his skateboard off a large piece of sidewalk that was lifted up after high winds toppled a large tree on 1500 East and 1300 South in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020.
Nick Lee does a flip turn on his skateboard off a large piece of sidewalk that was lifted up after high winds toppled a large tree on 1500 East and 1300 South in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News
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