A major storm with predicted hurricane-force winds moved into Southcentral Alaska on Tuesday evening, causing widespread power outages through Wednesday morning.
Matanuska Electric Association was responding to an outage Wednesday morning affecting 3,300 customers between Wasilla and Willow/Caswell Lakes. The utility late Tuesday reported two small outages in the areas of South Birchwood and Trapper Creek. The reports did not say whether the outages were caused by wind.
Residents in Fairbanks and North Pole reported power outages Tuesday night that Golden Valley Electric Association attributed to "a fault on the southern end of the Intertie" transmission line, according to its Facebook page.
Homer Electric Association said early Wednesday that power was restored to 649 customers after an outage in Kasilof. Ongoing Kenai Peninsula outages included 75 customers without power in Nikiski and 146 in the Funny River Road area.
The National Weather Service had issued a series of high-wind warnings for the region extending from Seward to Anchorage and east to Cordova, cautioning about gusts of 75 to 90 mph in much of the area and 85 to 100 mph along Turnagain Arm and higher elevations.
The Anchorage Hillside experienced strong gusts into the late Tuesday afternoon, with Upper DeArmoun hit with a gust of 72 mph at 3:30 p.m. and another gust of 65 mph at 5 p.m. Glen Alps had its strongest gust, 64 mph, at 3:23 p.m. The strength of the gusts decreased into the early evening, according to the weather service.
Meteorologist Luis Ingram said people should expect falling trees, which can snag electrical lines and cause outages on their way down. Meteorologists urged residents to secure items likely to be blown around by the wind, and to exercise caution if driving tall vehicles on the Seward Highway along Turnagain Arm.
The warnings, as well as flood watches prompted by heavy rains expected from Seward to Whittier, were in effect through 10 a.m. Wednesday.
The Weather Service released a special weather statement Tuesday evening, warning that the potent weather system could move into the eastern Gulf of Alaska on Wednesday night and across the Panhandle on Thursday. High winds of up to 57 mph and seas between 25 and 30 feet will affect the northern Gulf on Wednesday and spread into the eastern Gulf through Thursday. The system is forecast to produce a period of heavy rain as it pushes inland, according to the statement.
The Alaska Department of Transportation canceled the state ferry Tustumena's sailings for Tuesday due to the weather. It is set to resume serving the communities of Homer, Kodiak, Chignik and Sand Point on Wednesday morning.
Anchorage-based meteorologist Emily Niebuhr said it was difficult to directly compare this week's storm to the massive windstorm that struck the region four years ago this month, on Sept. 5, 2012. She said a common factor shared by that storm, which knocked out power to 50,000 people, and Tuesday's is the fact that trees had yet to shed their leaves — which makes them more likely to topple amid high winds.
"It's a different type of storm, but it's still a dangerous storm — it's a very strong system," Niebuhr said. "It's another kind of storm people should be careful about."
On Tuesday afternoon, Anchorage police issued a statement asking residents to call power companies — not 911 — to report outages.
"(W)e need to have our phone lines available to respond to emergencies and calls for police response," police wrote. "Also, a reminder that if traffic signals are disabled or out, please treat them as stop signs."
Electric utilities across the region made preparations for the storm Tuesday morning.
Chugach Electric spokeswoman Julie Hasquet said the company was emphasizing safety in its response, asking that customers not approach downed power lines. Crews will be on standby to repair them but will do so only "when it is safe to respond."
"We will have additional customer service representatives to answer the phone as well as more people working in dispatch," Hasquet wrote. "In terms of storm response, we are holding crews over after the regular work day today."
Municipal Light & Power spokeswoman Julie Harris said officials were coordinating with Anchorage emergency operations center. The utility also had tree trimmers out Tuesday morning, continuing work to pare branches that threaten ML&P lines.
"In advance of situations like this, our tree trimmers worked all summer long and in a consistent fashion to make sure our power lines are clear," Harris said.
Matanuska Electric Association spokeswoman Julie Estey said the Mat-Su co-op prepared generators and fuel supplies for use if needed, as well as putting contract crews on alert to assist MEA linemen with potential repairs.
"This is our standard protocol for storm preparations," Estey said. "We're definitely taking it seriously."
Melissa Carlin, a spokeswoman for the Homer Electric Association, said her utility was advising customers to keep safety in mind when operating generators or approaching downed power lines.
Regional electric utilities will post updates on outages to their Facebook pages, listed below along with their phone numbers for reporting power outages: