Hurricane-force winds wreaked havoc across northern Utah on Tuesday as huge trees fell, schools closed, semitrucks toppled and more than 170,000 homes and businesses lost power.
Gusts reaching at least 99 mph were recorded with the worst winds concentrated north of Salt Lake County, the National Weather Service reported. And more was expected to come later in the day and into early Wednesday.
Schools in the Davis, Weber and Ogden districts closed Tuesday due to unsafe travel conditions and power outages. The Salt Lake City School District, which was supposed to start online Tuesday because of the pandemic, also canceled its first day of classes with students and teachers not able to log on with electrical blackout. University of Utah and Weber State University canceled classes, too.
Several U. clinics and COVID-19 testing centers were also experiencing closures and delays with the storm, the U. reported.
Streets across downtown Salt Lake City became a maze with felled trees blocking intersections, including one at 600 East and 100 South. Three trees toppled there near an apartment complex. The trees crushed a Tesla parked on the street, leaving glass shattered on the asphalt.
Many of the trees came unrooted, pulling out massive chunks of earth and sidewalk with them. And burst pipes covered the nearby cement in water.
Georgann Jensen and her friend had been driving to pick up their kids from Upland Elementary in Salt Lake City after the power went out. A massive pine crashed onto the road just barely behind their car. Neighbor Greg Newbold caught the near miss on video.
Jensen said she heard a loud creak and thought she felt something brush the back of the car. Then her friend stopped and shouted, “Turn around and look at what just happened.”
“It was pretty terrifying,” Jensen said. “I’m a little nervous driving around now.”
David Stroud and his son, Zak, had been taking pictures of the damage in their yard in the Avenues early Tuesday . Mostly a few limbs had broken off.
They stepped away to go back inside their house and 15 seconds later, Stroud said, the massive, 85-year-old tree they were looking at came down right where they had been standing.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Stroud said. “We had just been there. We could have been hit by it.”
The tree took with it a streetlight and a power pole, leaving wires exposed.
That was at 7:30 a.m. Another tree in their neighbor’s yard burst through the fence between the houses shortly after that. Then a city’s water crew showed up about 10 a.m. when Stroud noticed that it smelled like fuel when he tried to turn his faucets on — but no water would come out.
“It just doesn’t seem real,” added Ronnie, Stroud’s youngest daughter. She was supposed to start online classes at West High, but those were canceled with the storm.
Their house, like many in the Avenues, is nearly 100 years old.
April Hogue, who lives nearby on 5th Avenue and 580 East, saw even more damage. A giant pine crashed down on her home from her neighbor’s yard, hitting the roof and porch and causing the whole front of the house to sag forward.
Shingles were tossed off. The siding is torn. The rain gutters are crumpled. And a window was shattered.
“There’s potentially some structural damage on the porch,” Hogue said. “It will be extensive repairs. But it’s not a tear down.”
Her friend had actually been outside when it happened. She had seen the fence swaying and tried to reinforce it. Then she heard a crack from the tree and ran.
The two women, along with a group of friends, grabbed chainsaws and started unburying the front door Tuesday morning.
Metal stop signs had been bent from the wind. And a mattress flew down 2nd Avenue with a big gust. By early afternoon, it also started snowing in some areas along the East Bench in Salt Lake City.
“It’s definitely been some wacky weather,” said Vanessa Wilson, who had a tree crash in front of her porch on 1100 East. “I kept hearing bangs and crashes throughout the night.”
Rich Garner had been visiting Utah on vacation from Pennsylvania when he walked out to find his rental car smashed at 6 a.m.
And Jonie Jones’ house was also buried under a tree that had been one of the oldest in the neighborhood. “I felt a huge gust of wind shaking my house,” she said.
Chris Peterson, too, the Democrat running in Utah’s gubernatorial campaign, had a massive 100-year-old sycamore fall in his yard, damaging the sidewalk. Tera Peterson, the candidate’s wife, said, “I’m nervous. This could go all day.”
According to the National Weather Service, the strong winds will “ramp back up” between Salt Lake City and Ogden on Tuesday night and continue into Wednesday morning.
Temperatures — which are expected to top out in the mid-50s on Tuesday — will rise into the low 60s on Wednesday as the low pressure slowly pin-wheels north along the Utah-Colorado border.
The National Weather Service clocked winds of 99 mph at Park Lane on U.S. Highway 89, with gusts of 97 mph in Farmington and at Logan Peak, 89 mph at the University of Utah’s Browning Building, and 84 mph at Hill Air Force Base.
“We’ve heard some reports of 100+ mph winds but we do not have access to that data,” NWS meteorologists said on Twitter.
Rocky Mountain Power said, too, that it was working to restore electricity to those impacted, which included 170,000 customers in Utah. The outages went as far south as Utah County and as far north as Idaho, where another 3,000 were without power. Additionally, 10,000 in Wyoming were affected.
The company said that residents should be prepared for “prolonged power outages,” noting that “some restoration efforts could be delayed until the gusts subside to ensure safety.”
Residents are advised to tie down trampolines and outdoor furniture. And people should also avoid gettin near any downed power lines.
Semitruck travel has been restricted in Box Elder, Davis and Weber Counties because of the winds. According to the Utah Highway Patrol, several trucks have been blown over and trees and power lines blocked highways and interstates in those areas. U.S. 89 between Park Lane in Farmington and Oak Hills Drive in Layton has been closed because of downed power lines, according to the Utah Department of Transportation.
There are downed trees elsewhere across northern Utah, including at the Utah State Capitol, which was closed for the day, Gov. Gary Herbert announced.