ANCHORAGE, Alaska – An unseasonably early wind storm pummeled Alaska's largest city and surrounding region, toppling scores of trees and leaving thousands without power for hours.
Some areas around Anchorage recorded hurricane-force winds, while winds in lower elevations were clocked in at 40 to 60 mph during the storm, which blew intensely between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, the National Weather Service said.
The storm closed schools and delayed production of the Anchorage Daily News, whose Wednesday edition was not delivered to subscribers. Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell said in a Facebook post that all nonessential state employees in the Anchorage area were not required to report to work Wednesday.
There were no immediate reports of injuries, but there were lots of homeowners across the city lamenting the loss of their trees.
Diana Patton found out about her fallen mayday and birch trees on the front yard of her south Anchorage property when a neighbor called her late Tuesday night. The downed trees covered most of the road, but her son stopped by before work Wednesday to clear the street.
Patton later learned that her next-door neighbor had a tree fall on her house, which had some structural damage.
"Other than the fact that I lost my beautiful trees that I loved, I consider myself fortunate," she said. "It could have been so much worse."
Meteorologist Andy Dixon said the official highest recorded wind speed was 88 mph in Turnagain Arm south of Anchorage, but sensors in that area and other windier spots then quit working through much of the severe storm, so the winds are believed to be much stronger there than officially measured.
"The worst is definitely over," he said, noting Anchorage would continue to see gusty winds, only far calmer.
The storm was unusual because it occurred in early fall, before the ground has frozen and while trees still have plenty of leaves, preventing winds from passing through bare branches, Dixon said.
Trees were breaking and falling all over the city, landing on power lines, cars, yards and homes, Anchorage police and fire officials said. Some trees that fell on power lines sparked tree and transformer fires, according to fire department spokesman Al Tamagni.
Altogether, fire department crews juggled 493 calls in the 12-hour period beginning Tuesday evening, he said.
Power outages affected thousands in Anchorage and other parts of south central Alaska.
One Anchorage electric utility, Municipal Light and Power, said power had been restored for most of its 30,000 residential and commercial customers. As many as 7,000 customers of Chugach Electric, however, remained without power Wednesday afternoon, KTUU reported. Calls to a Chugach representative were not immediately returned.
North of Anchorage in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, 1,500 customers of the Matanuska Electric Association were still without power Wednesday night.
To avoid the high winds during the storm, seven passenger jets were diverted to Fairbanks from Anchorage. Fairbanks International Airport spokeswoman Angie Spear told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner that 740 unscheduled passengers were at the facility.
Several airlines had flown out of Fairbanks by early Wednesday morning. Alaska Airlines spokesman Paul McElroy said all passengers from his airline's diverted flights had reached Anchorage by mid-afternoon Wednesday.