There were hundreds of calls to the California Highway Patrol and local police departments about fender benders, injury collisions, business burglar alarms set off by the wind and traffic hazards from fallen tree limbs, fences and other debris.
Beyond Orange County, the wind forced the closure of Ontario International Airport and parts of Interstate 15, turned big rigs on their sides, brought down power lines and fanned small brush fires.
No deaths or serious injuries were reported.
Ontario's incoming flights were diverted to Los Angeles, and all airlines except American canceled their flights at the San Bernardino County airport by midafternoon, airport spokeswoman Maria Tesoro said.
The airport, which serves an average of 34,000 people a day, was hit by 83-mph winds pushing huge clouds of dust, Tesoro said. "We had one single-engine aircraft turned over."
Traffic Snarled by Blown-Over Big Rigs
On nearby highways, the fierce winds toppled several semitrucks.
"They are everywhere," CHP Officer Oscar Medellin said. The biggest problem was at the foot of the Cajon Pass where Interstate 15 links San Bernardino and the High Desert.
"We are taking all high-profile vehicles off at Devore. We won't let them over," Medellin said. "They are just going to have to wait it out or go around another way."
Blown-over big-rigs snarled traffic on Interstates 10, 15 and 60.
"This is an absolute nightmare," CHP Officer Randy Young said.
A wind-driven fire blackened 30 acres of undeveloped land north of Brand Park in Glendale. And downed power lines on the border of Glendale and La Crescenta caused a brush fire that swept over about an acre before it was put out, Glendale Fire Department officials said.
The Santa Ana winds will remain strong until this afternoon, giving way to breezy 15-mph to 20-mph conditions Friday and Saturday, said Guy Pearson, a meteorologist at WeatherData Inc., which provides forecasts for The Times.
Times staff writer Deborah Schoch and Times correspondents Jason Kandel and Debra Cano contributed to this report.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
Gusts and Gales
Fierce canyon winds blew through Orange County on Wednesday. Some of the highest wind speeds were recorded at the Fremont Canyon monitoring station in central O.C.
Maximum wind gusts: 128 mph
Source: California Dept. of Water Resources