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Santa Ana Winds Knock Out Power, Divert Flights Across Southern California

Winds of 80 miles per hour (130 kilometers per hour) knocked out electricity to more than 400,000 homes throughout Southern California and caused flights to Los Angeles International Airport to be diverted overnight.

An estimated 210,295 Southern California Edison customers had lost power as of 8 a.m. local time, said David Song, a spokesman for the utility. About 129,000 Los Angeles Department of Water & Power customers were without electricity as of 10 a.m., the utility said in a statement. Pacific Gas & Electric, with a service territory that stretches from the Oregon border to Bakersfield, California, had 64,650 customers without power as of 9 a.m., said Katie Romans, a spokeswoman.

“The trees are hitting the lines and lines are coming down or just swinging,” Song said in an interview. Southern California Edison, a unit of Edison International (EIX), expects the gusts to continue through midday tomorrow, he said.

The Santa Ana winds -- dry, warm gusts that blow in from the desert -- reached 140 miles per hour along mountain crests and are expected to reach 80 miles per hour again today, according to the National Weather Service. It’s “the strongest easterly wind event in the past several years,” and the gusts combined with dry weather are creating a “significant fire threat,” the service said on its website.

Flights Diverted

At Los Angeles International Airport, 23 inbound flights were diverted during the night to other airports because of debris blown onto runways and an hourlong power failure that started yesterday at about 7 p.m., according to an e-mailed statement. Operations had returned to normal by 7:22 a.m. today.

Damage was particularly severe in the foothill suburbs northeast of downtown Los Angeles, with fallen trees and traffic-signal failures congesting roads in Glendale, Pasadena, Altadena and Eagle Rock.

The cities of Pasadena and Sierra Madre both declared emergencies, and schools in Pasadena, Eagle Rock, Los Feliz and as far east as Glendora, about 20 miles from Los Angeles, were closed this morning.

The storm is being caused by a difference in air pressure across the U.S. West, said Brian Edwards, a meteorologist with commercial forecaster AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania.

Hurricane-Strength Gusts

The pressure gradient causes high winds that are funneled through mountain passes, producing even higher gusts, he said. Some winds at higher elevations have been clocked at more than 150 miles per hour. Should those winds be sustained, they would match the strength of a Category 4 hurricane, the second strongest on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale.

While Santa Ana winds are common in Southern California this time of year, this week’s windstorm is a once-in-a-decade event because gusts are stronger than are normal and affect a large swath of the West, Edwards said.

“The unusual thing is how widespread it is,” he said.

High-wind warnings cover parts of California, Nevada, Utah and New Mexico, the National Weather Service said. Sustained winds of 35 to 45 miles per hour are expected across much of the region, with gusts as intense as 65 miles per hour or more. Sustained winds of that strength are equivalent to a tropical storm.

The winds are likely to lessen later today and start to fade in strength by tomorrow, Edwards said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Mark Chediak in San Francisco at mchediak@bloomberg.net; Brian K. Sullivan in Boston at bsullivan10@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anthony Palazzo at apalazzo@bloomberg.net

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