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Windy Conditions Challenge Puget Sound Energy Crews; South King County Hardest Hit

power_lines_lean.jpg
Courtesy Puget Sound Energy
/
Flickr
Crews begin to repair and restore power along Enchanted Parkway in Federal Way.

Gusty winds are posing some unusual challenges for Puget Sound Energy, toppling trees and taking out power lines as the cold air races in from the east.

The utility has called in outside crews to help with repairs, especially in the hardest-hit areas of South King County. Less than half of the 70,000 Puget Sound Energy customers who lost power overnight were still in the dark Tuesday afternoon.

The outages forced several schools to close and impacted communities from Enumclaw to Kent and Federal Way, as Puget Sound Energy's outage map shows. (The utility updates the map every 15 minutes.) 

Crews from eastern Washington, Oregon, Snohomish County and even from Canada have been on the scene to bolster Puget Sound Energy’s workforce.

The sustained high winds have made the use of a helicopter for damage assessment too dangerous, so they’ve had to do a lot by foot. At times, PSE Spokesman Ray Lane says crews have had to pause their work for safety reasons, with high winds bringing debris down around them.

“This one is popping a wallop," Lane said. "We are used to wind storms for sure here in the Pacific Northwest. We saw this one coming. But it’s proving to be pretty stubborn.”

The event has lasted so long that crews have sometimes needed to backtrack into areas where they’d done repairs a day earlier.

“So we start repairs, we get folks brought back online. They may have power for a short period and then suddenly, it goes off again,” Lane said.

The winds are easterlies, which means they’re coming from the east, not from the coast, which is more common and may partly explain why so many big trees are down. In several instances, the trees have hit large transmission lines and towers, taking out power for thousands of households at a time.  

With winds subsiding, Puget Sound Energy expects most customers to be back online by early Thursday, but the utility says some may have to wait till Friday.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment beat for KNKX, where she has worked since 1999. From 2000-2012, she covered the business and labor beat. Bellamy has a deep interest in Indigenous affairs and the Salish Sea. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University.