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High winds take down trees, cause power outages

Peggy Safranek of Edinburg looks over this toppled cedar tree that crashed through this chain link fence behind Edinburg Town Hall and landed in her yard Wednesday evening. The tree struck Safranek's Shenandoah Avenue home, but did only minor damage to her roof guttering. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

By Katie Demeria

Strong winds swept into the valley Wednesday night and into Thursday, pulling down trees, causing power outages and creating the potential for wildfires.

NWS meteorologist Carl Barnes said gusts were consistently reaching 35 mph in and around Winchester.

"That's definitely very strong," Barnes said. "And it's even back down a little from last night."

The winds were caused by a low pressure system that passed just north of the valley as it moved up toward New England.

"It deepened very rapidly, much more rapidly than we normally see," Barnes said. "As it moved away and deepened, it basically increased the pressure gradient over our area."

That increased pressure gradient caused the strong north winds, as well as the chilly temperatures. Barnes said wind chills nearly dipped into the single digits Wednesday night.

The high winds have been wreaking havoc on trees in the area. Edinburg resident Peggy Safranek was in her home when a large cedar tree fell in her backyard.

"This tree is the granddaddy of them all," Safranek said. "It's nothing short of miraculous -- it just bent my spouting a little bit. If it had fallen like it should have fallen, it would have taken out my living room and my dining room."

Safranek said it fell at around 6 p.m. Wednesday, after the gusts had started. Downed trees in other areas took power lines with them, causing widespread outages in the area.

Ann Lewis of Rappahannock Electric Cooperative said that at the peak of the outages, 1,300 members in Warren County were without power.

"Basically I would say a large majority of the outages were caused by the strong gusts of wind, and were tree related," Lewis said.

As of 11 a.m. Thursday, Lewis said crews had restored power to all those individuals.

Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative spokesperson Mike Aulgur said SVEC also saw outages caused by downed power line poles.

"The outages started rolling in yesterday around four o'clock, and we immediately began sending crews out to restore services," Aulgur said Thursday.

He said 120 customers in Frederick County still did not have power as of 11 a.m. Thursday, nor did a handful of customers in Shenandoah County. At the peak of the outages, around 2,000 residents were without power in Frederick County.

Aulgur warned local residents to never approach downed power lines, even if they think they are inactive.

"Don't go near the tree that's making contact with the line, either," he said. "Because of the nature of electricity, there is an imminent danger there as a result of grounding issues."

Aulgur said he was not aware of any safety issues caused by individuals coming too close to lines.

In addition to knocking trees down, the high winds, mixed with the dry conditions from the low pressure system, caused NWS to issue a red flag for central and northern Virginia, warning of an increased likelihood of wildfires.

A high amount of fuel moisture, Barnes said, also contributed to the red flag.

"Fuel moisture is related to how much rain we have had lately, and the state of leaves and stuff that has fallen already," he said. "It indicates how much fuel there is available for fire. The air is much drier than normal, and with a combination of the strong winds, there's the potential there."

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com

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