Wind, wrath and wreckage

by William J. Bechaver

WALSENBURG- Living in Walsenburg, we’ve grown quite accustomed to the wind.  It blows almost constantly, especially in the late fall and early spring.  But the winds we’ve experienced this past week have not only been constant, but they’ve been brutal in strength and speed, with maintained gusts on the verge of record-setting speeds.

    Last Thursday we were subjected to wind gusts in excess of 57 miles per hour, and sustained winds near 40, a velocity that would be classified by the U. S. Weather Bureau as gale-force winds.

    After a brief but welcome respite on Friday, conditions worsened on Saturday as the winds, attributed to the arrival of an approaching cold front, intensified with damaging results and power disruptions.  Between power outages that morning, the highest gust I recorded came in at an astounding 77 miles-per-hour.  A sustained wind of that speed is considered hurricane strength by the National Weather Service. Others have reported winds as high as 84 m.p.h. in the area.  Fortunately, those types of winds were not sustained.

    Sustained or not, gusts of that force are more than adequate to cause widespread damage.  On both occasions, we were plagued with periodic to extended power outages.  The lingering effects included downed trees and power lines, large debris in the streets, on sidewalks and in yards, resulting in some property damage.

    Shelley Farrell of San Isabel Electric Association, Inc. spoke to the Huerfano Journal and explained the electrical grid problems the county experienced last Thursday and Saturday.

    Farrell said that on Thursday afternoon the problems were all wind-related, but they were mostly isolated outages.  Major problems were reported on the east side of Walsenburg, in the area of Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Streets.  It started with a complete outage just after 3:00 pm.  Later, the same areas experienced periods of low-voltage.  Farrell also explained that the city is on a delta system, which requires two phases to maintain full voltage.  One phase was disabled, resulting in the fluctuations, outages, and low voltage for about two hours.  The only other problems reported that evening was an outage in the Cuchara Pass area.

The problems caused by the gusting and variable winds on Saturday were on a much more wide-spread scale, with problems and outages ranging from the Colorado City and Rye area, and extending all the way to the New Mexico border, encompassing much of San Isabel’s coverage area.  Regular service was not restored for several hours in some areas.

    Around Walsenburg, damage ranged from large portions of missing shingles from roofs, broken windows, mostly from flying debris, downed carports and patios, and toppled trees.

    On East Sixth Street, a large pine in the yard of Dave and Rose Ann Vigil was snapped off just above the ground like a toothpick.

    It was around 6 o’clock when they could hear the wind roaring in what Rose Ann could only describe as what "sounded like a tornado."  Then they heard it snap.  I can only imagine it sounded like cannon fire.  When they looked, the pine — which had stood majestically about six feet from their front porch for many years — had gone down.  Dave estimates that the tree was probably a 50 footer.  Fortunately, the tree fell away from the house, but it did fall across Iowa Street, just missing an adjacent house and garage.  The little-used roadway was blocked for much of the early morning hours, until the property owners could get the tree cut just after sunup.

    Just a block away on East Fifth another pine fell victim to the winds, the top sheered clean off, but barely hitting the front of the house, causing minor damage there.

    Throughout the area, there were local reports of disturbances and damage caused by the wind.

    Much of the gusting wind we encounter this time of year is caused by thermal conditions, when warm air is disturbed by colder air, usually the result of an approaching cold front, or a cold airmass situated over the mountains.  The winds rush down the east face of the front range, assailing the communities and residents who live there.

    The winds brought fleeting snow flurries all during the day on Saturday, as the threatening storm held close over the mountains.  In the end, the cold front brought the prevailing winds, and little else further out on the plains.  The storm did create hazardous driving conditions on La Veta Pass for a time, and provided a healthy dose of snow for some of our mountain communities.  Snow-fall rates have been far below normal for this time of year, and unfortunately, the storm proved to be mostly bark, and little bite.