Arctic winds tore through Southern California over the weekend, downing power poles like match sticks, knocking out electricity to thousands of homes, littering streets with tons of debris and raising concerns about shelter for the homeless.
In San Diego, farmers and operators of shelters for the homeless braced themselves for a night of near- and below-freezing temperatures as winds up to 38 m.p.h lashed through the county Sunday.
The high winds also toppled a 100-foot tree onto a truck in La Mesa on Sunday afternoon, seriously injuring its two occupants, and was the cause of several scattered power outages throughout San Diego. In addition, many county highways and streets were littered with tree branches and debris because of the high winds.
Elsewhere in Southern California, winds were clocked at 50 to 60 m.p.h., with gusts up to 80 m.p.h. reported in parts of the San Bernardino Valley.
Hardest hit was the San Bernardino County city of Rancho Cucamonga, where winds exceeding 60 m.p.h. blew down 80 power poles along a 1 1/2-mile stretch of Baseline Road, officials said. At least two of those poles fell on cars, but no injuries were reported, a sheriff's official said Sunday.
One After Another
"They came down just like dominoes," city maintenance supervisor Bob Zetterberg said of the line of power poles. "It looks like a war zone out here."
The winds in San Diego were not that powerful, but the 38 m.p.h. gusts recorded at Lindbergh Field Sunday afternoon were the fastest winds recorded at the airport since mid-March, according to National Weather Service forecaster Wilbur Shigehara.
In La Mesa, Marion and Dorothy Miller were seriously injured about 1:30 p.m. Sunday when winds blew a 100-foot eucalyptus tree over onto their pickup truck at Bancroft Drive and Mariposa Street. To rescue the Spring Valley couple, firefighters had to remove the vehicle's roof.
Late Sunday night, Dorothy Miller, 80, was reported in critical condition at Sharp Memorial Hospital with internal and head injuries, while her 83-year-old husband was in serious but stable condition, a hospital spokeswoman said.
The San Diego power outages attributed to the high winds occurred primarily in the northern coastal areas, Vista and Fallbrook, according to SDG&E spokeswoman Elizabeth Pecsi. Most of the outages were relatively minor ones that affected no more than several hundred customers at any one time, Pecsi added.
However, some residents in Oceanside were without power for most of the day Sunday, according to a spokesman for the Oceanside Police Department.
Relief Expected by Tuesday
The blustery and chilly weather was attributed to an Arctic air mass coursing through Southern California, Shigehara said. Some relief is expected by Tuesday night as the cold front moves east and the high winds calm down.
While the coldest temperature recorded Saturday night in the county was 28 degrees in Valley Center, temperatures were expected to drop Sunday night to close to 20 degrees in Bonsall and into the mid-20s in other low-lying inland areas such as Rincon, Pauma Valley and El Cajon, according to Shigehara.
"About once every 30 years we get temperatures below 20 degrees somewhere in the county," Shigehara said. "It is very, very unusual to get hit with below 20-degree temperatures for two years in a row."
The low temperatures posed a particularly serious threat to area citrus and avocado growers, agriculture officials said. If the overnight temperatures drop below 29 degrees, potentially serious damage to citrus and avocado crops can be expected, according to Vincent Lazaneo, a farm adviser for UC Cooperative Extension.
In most cases, Lazaneo explained, the local citrus and avocado crops are not mature enough to harvest, "so picking isn't an option, even if you could do it fast enough." Instead, growers may turn on their irrigation systems to add a few degrees to the soil temperature, use wind machines to help pull down warmer air and use smudge pots in the fields, but even those alternatives are of limited use when temperatures are in the 20s, Lazaneo said.
"Those things only give you a few degrees added protection, at most," Lazaneo said. "When it gets down close to 20 degrees, it's pretty much a wait-and-see situation. There just isn't too much you can do about it."
Number of Cold Hours
It was not only the coldness itself which was worrying growers, but the expected duration of the below-freezing temperatures, according to Shigehara.
"We consider it a 'dangerously' cold night when temperatures drop below 24 or 25 degrees in agricultural areas," Shigehara said. "(Sunday) night, temperatures will be below that in some areas for as much as 15 hours. . . . There's going to be a lot of activity out in the field the next couple of nights."