Dec. 1, 2011 -- The fiercest Santa Ana winds in a decade swept through Southern California on Wednesday night, knocking down trees and leaving hundreds of thousands of people without power.
High wind warnings were also issued for Utah, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Arizona, and early Thursday winds of over 90 mph in Utah overturned semi-trailer rigs and left 30,000 homes and businesses without power, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.
In Southern California, nearly 200,000 customers were without power Thursday morning, Southern California Edison told KABC-TV, while the Los Angeles Department of Power and Water said 87,000 customers were in the dark. The San Gabriel Valley was especially hard-hit by the outages, and the Pasadena area was strewn with downed trees.
The storm—carrying winds of up to 60 mph in L.A. and up to 140 mph in the mountains-- is expected to peak on the West Coast Thursday and continue through Friday. The National Weather Service warned that winds as high as 80 mph are expected in higher-elevation areas near L.A. Thursday. Heavy snow hit the Rockies, the Weather Service said, and the storm system is heading for the Midwest and the Mississippi Valley this weekend.
The Weather Service said there was a "significant fire threat" in Southern California," and officials in the L.A. area said they were worried. "When you get 60, 70, 80 mile-an-hour winds, if a fire were to get established, because the brush is still dry even though we had some rain recently, it's going to be very difficult to stop," Los Angeles County Fire Capt. Mark Savage told KABC.
At Los Angeles International Airport, power failed Wednesday night for about an hour, stranding waiting passengers in the dark. More than 20 inbound flights had to be diverted because of debris blowing around on the runways, KABC TV reported.
By Thursday morning, aircraft were landing again. Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor told The Associated Press that he was "cautiously optimistic the worst wind conditions are behind us—for now."
Trees fell on freeways, on a gas station in Pasadena, and in front yards. In Van Nuys, a homeowner told KABC that he thought it was an earthquake at first when a huge tree fell over in front of his home.
"All of a sudden I heard this huge rumbling sound and then the ground actually shook bad, and I wasn't sure if it was an earthquake or what was going on, and so I ran out to the front of the house and here is this 150-foot tree ... I mean thank God it didn't fall toward our house," said homeowner Chris Drury.
Pasadena was especially hard-hit. Its schools and libraries were shut and a local emergency was declared. An apartment building with 40 residents was evacuated when a tree smashed its roof, the AP reported.
The Santa Ana winds are a fall phenomenon on the West Coast—triggered when dry winds blow west from the desert and squeeze through the mountains.