Windstorm inflicted significant damage |

Windstorm inflicted significant damage

Two cars were totaled and power was lost for several hours after a windstorm swept through Steamboat Springs on Thursday night.

At about 6 p.m., gusts of wind traveling at an estimated 60 mph toppled trees, overturned tables and sent people scurrying for shelter.

Several of the downed trees and tree branches hit cars and power lines. The Steamboat Springs Police Department received reports of five cars damaged, two of which were totaled, Officer Nate Morton said.

The wind also caused several power outages, especially near Gilpin and Spruce streets.

Crews from Yampa Valley Electric Association, who repaired the power lines, estimated that the outages affected 40 customers, but that number is probably low, said Paul Vaillancourt, the manager of operations and engineering at Yampa Valley Electric.

“More people were probably affected that didn’t call in the outage because they had their power restored when it was restored to others,” Vaillancourt said.

Most people’s power was restored by 9 p.m., though for some, power didn’t return until 10 p.m., he said.

Vaillancourt advised people to exercise caution if they ever encounter a fallen line because electricity still may run through it.

“Whenever there’s wire on the ground, there’s always a hazard. You can’t tell when you’re walking up to it if it’s dead or alive,” he said.

People should avoid touching not only the wire, but also anything touching the wire such as tree branches or debris because current will travel through those objects to you, he said.

The size of Thursday’s fallen trees, however, probably dissuaded anyone from attempting to move them from power lines. Full-sized cottonwoods and pine trees, some 70 years old, succumbed to the fierce gales. Typically, trees rotted by fungus or standing in damp soil are the ones that fall to strong winds because their root systems are less secure, but Thursday’s storm knocked over trees with healthy root systems, forester Omar Campbell said.

“Cottonwoods are usually quite resistant,” Campbell said. “But if 100-mph winds catch the full crown of leafed-out foliage, it’s more than the root system can handle. The tree acts like a big sail, catching the wind.”

Because the cottonwoods are in full foliage at this time of the year, they were more vulnerable, he said.

The multi-directional nature of the windstorm also contributed to the widespread tree damage.

“The trees brace themselves against Steamboat’s prevailing west winds, but when a mass of cold air descends like on Thursday, the wind spreads out in all directions, and the trees aren’t prepared for that,” Campbell said.

The windstorm Thursday was a microburst and occurs when hot air rapidly evaporates rain from a thunderstorm. In the process of evaporating, the raindrops extract heat from the atmosphere, which rapidly cools the air. That heavier, cold air then descends with great force. When it hits the ground, it spreads in all directions at speeds up to 100 mph, said Jeff Colton, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service Office in Grand Junction.

Steamboat residents can brace for more windstorms such as Thursday’s because microbursts are common this time of year, Colton said.

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