Photo by Wayne Henry Swan.
                                The windstorm hit a neighborhood in Briarwood hard. Trees were down all around the area, one hitting a very unlucky truck.

Photo by Wayne Henry Swan. The windstorm hit a neighborhood in Briarwood hard. Trees were down all around the area, one hitting a very unlucky truck.

City and residents respond to windstorm

The windstorm Sunday, Jan. 6, left some without power for several days. Others fought fallen trees.

Jason Black and his son Nolan lost power in the storm. Luckily for Jason, he was on a ski trip for his birthday almost the entire four days of their outage. He returned two hours before it was restored.

But Nolan was out of luck. He shared a blanket with their dog for warmth at night and walked past a large knocked down tree to get to Safeway for dinner.

“Waking up the next morning, it was very revealing of how serious it was,” Nolan said. “Even walking around, someone said ‘It was a fight last night.’ I said, ‘Yes it was.’”

The windstorm in the early morning hours of Jan. 6 brought trees and power down for many in the King County area, and Renton was no exception.

City of Renton Emergency Management posted on Facebook Renton probably had 5,000 to 6,000 houses and businesses without power after the windstorm. Downtown saw winds of 33 mph, with gusts of 52 mph.

According to Puget Sound Energy, South King County had 70,357 customers out at noon Jan. 6.

By 6 p.m. Jan. 9, all outages related to the windstorm were on again, according to PSE. There were nearly 100 crews throughout the region working to restore power to customers, with some even coming down from British Columbia to assist.

Some parts of Renton saw power out from Sunday morning to Wednesday afternoon, according to the PSE outage map from Jan. 9.

People helped each other out during and after the storm. Renton Deputy Public Affairs Administrator Preeti Shridhar said she saw people offering assistance on social media.

A local Buy Nothing page had people posting, offering warm drinks and a place to charge phones for those without electricity, according to one Facebook comment.

Public Works Department Administrator Gregg Zimmerman said the three hours of strong gusts from Sunday morning resulted in 80 different tree problems throughout the city.

As trees fell, four knocked down power and telecommunication lines, Zimmerman said. City crews could not clean up fallen trees with electrical cables until PSE assured they were safe, which caused some delays.

Other fallen trees blocked streets or added debris to roadsides. Major blocks were cleared by the afternoon on Jan. 9, with debris removal continuing through Jan. 11.

According to public works, they continued to receive calls of downed limbs and requests for street sweeping.

Damage assessment was challenging in some service areas, said Andrew Padula, media engagement specialist at PSE. They had to dispatch some helicopters where ground conditions were difficult or impossible for crews to access.

Several traffic signals in Renton went out in this storm due to the power outage. Zimmerman said the city had to wait for power as residents did.

Zimmerman said some motorists drove through dark intersections during the outage without stopping. Traffic signals that have lost power should be treated as stop signs.

Some have backup batteries, but that needed to be changed every four to five hours by city crews. Zimmerman said one traffic signal controller, that determines the timing of the intersection’s lights, was damaged in a power surge and needed to be replaced.

The windstorm also knocked down 19 street signs. The signal and shop crew spent 61 hours responding to storm-related problems.

City staff and PSE were out on Renton roads working to clean and restore power throughout the week.

One resident in the Highlands area, Angus, said he saw crews out in the snow. His power was out until early morning Jan. 8.

“I know it takes awhile, this is not something you can just slap a patch on,” he said. “I don’t think people really appreciate how hard it is.”

Zimmerman said with 330 miles of streets and 150 traffic signals, public works can have a lot on their hands. Most emergencies are ones public works has responded to before, and the employees are well-practiced and organized in the event of weather like this, he said.

Next time there’s a windstorm, Jason and Nolan Black will follow their neighbors’ lead and get a generator.

“Lesson learned,” Jason Black said.

Anyone with questions or concerns about trees in Renton can contact the urban forester at tflatley@rentonwa.gov or the street maintenance manager at pzellner@rentonwa.gov.

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