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Weather service boosts warning for weekend windstorm

Mike Dunham

Update, 11:15 a.m.: The high wind watch continues for Anchorage, Eagle River and Turnagain Arm, with the National Weather Service saying strong winds will develop over the area Saturday night and continue through Sunday.

Gusts of up to 100 mph are possible on the upper Hillside and along Turnagain Arm, with gusts up to 65 mph possible elsewhere in the city, the weather service said.

Read the latest full statement here.

A similar high wind watch has also been issued for western Prince William Sound the the Kenai Peninsula, including Whittier and Seward.

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Original story:

The National Weather Service issued a forecast on Thursday afternoon warning that another strong windstorm may hit Anchorage on Saturday. The news comes as one power company estimates damage from the Sept. 4 storm has cost millions to repair and wind-battered trees remain a danger throughout Anchorage.

"While there remains some uncertainty as to the maximum strength of the winds, this (new) storm is capable of producing winds close to the magnitudes seen in last week's storm," the bulletin said.

The weather service gave "best estimates" of winds of 50 miles per hour on the Upper Hillside and Turnagain Arm by Saturday afternoon, reaching 75 with possible gusts of 100 from Saturday night through late Sunday morning. Those speeds exceed those given in forecasts issued earlier this week.

The Lower Hillside, East Anchorage and Eagle River are predicted to have winds of 40 miles per hour with gusts to 65. The rest of Anchorage will also have strong winds with gusts up to 50 miles per hour.

Conditions should ease by late afternoon on Sunday.

The weather service said there is "a high probability that there will be more uprooted trees."

The Sept. 4 storm created widespread outages across Anchorage, Eagle River and the Mat-Su, with some residents losing power for up to six days. Chugach Electric Association, the region's largest power company, estimates the storm response and repair have already cost the company $2 million, according to a spokesman.

Scott Gage, owner of Gage Tree Services, said his business has a three-week backlog of calls from homeowners needing downed trees removed. He said he's seeing many standing trees that could well come down with a second blow.

"A lot were damaged," he said. "Their structural integrity has been compromised and will certainly come down in another windstorm. Some will just fall in the yard but others will have what we call 'a target.' " That is, they're likely to hit a structure or parked vehicle.

Some people aren't aware of the danger, he added. They may be focused on a tree that has hit their house and overlooking another tree that's leaning 10 degrees and starting to pull its roots loose.

The weather service also warned that a fresh round of power outages could occur. Municipal Light and Power has announced that it has Twitter and Facebook feeds to help communicate with customers. Chugach Electric is in the process of evaluating its response to last week's outages and expects to announce on Friday plans for responding to a similar event. (Chugach Electric is also on Facebook and Twitter.)

ARE YOU READY?

In the prolonged and widespread power outages that followed last week's storm, freezers, sump pumps and wells stopped working. Food thawed and spoiled. Crawl spaces flooded. Water didn't flow.

There was a run on home generators, with many stores running out.

Mike Kangas, president of Alaska Industrial Hardware, said the company started the week with 350 generators stocked in its eight stores and had fewer than 50 by the end of the week.

Tim Craig, owner of Anchorage True Value, said he was still waiting to replenish his supply of chain saws, replacement chains and related equipment.

"The saws were all gone by 9:30 on Wednesday morning," he said. "All the bar oil was gone an hour later. We were hammered."

Other in-demand items were chains for the saws, pruners, duct tape, flashlights, batteries and supplies for emergency roof repairs, including tarps, tar and mastic. The store also ran out of big trash bags as people scooped up debris from their yards.

More of everything was ordered on Tuesday, Craig said.

Phil Robinson, store director for the AIH store on the Old Seward Highway, said workers were unloading a new shipment of generators on Thursday and he expected them to be at the stores on Friday.

Robinson gave a list of items that could come in handy in the event of another emergency. In addition to generators and chain saws, the list includes:

• Extension cords (these should be heavy enough to carry the current produced by a generator)

• Portable propane or kerosene heaters and fuel

• Tow rope (for pulling a fallen tree off the road or a driveway)

• Tarps and bungee cords

• Fuel and water containers

• Trash bags

• Yard equipment (shovels, axes, rakes, etc.)

• Solar panels and inverters

Reach Mike Dunham at mdunham@adn.com or 257-4332.

Keep a kit

Kelley McGuirk, Director of Disaster Services for the American Red Cross of Alaska noted that the weather is getting colder and said people should have extra blankets on hand in case their heat goes out.

The Red Cross issued a press release in anticipation of the storm recommending that households have the following items on hand:

• Water -- one gallon per person, per day

• Food -- non-perishable, easy-to-prepare items

• Flashlight

• Battery-powered or hand-crank radio

• Extra batteries

• First aid kit

• Emergency Blanket

• Multi-purpose tool

• Pet food and supplies

For a full emergency kit checklist, visit www.redcross.org.

What you can do now

• Know where your flashlights and matches are. Be able to find them in the dark. Replace batteries as needed.

• If you already have water stored, empty the container and replace the contents with fresh.

• Review safety plans with family and friends; determine how you will connect and communicate, where you will rendezvous if not at your house.

• Make sure cell phones and other portable electronic devices are fully charged.

• Fill oil lamps and other fuel-operated light and heat devices -- and the generator if you have one.

• Top off containers with water and put in them the freezer to fill in empty spaces. Food in a full freezer will stay frozen longer in the event of an outage.

• If you plan to open and eat canned food, make sure you have a can opener.

• Fill your car's gas tank.

• Look around your yard and consider whether any trees or tree limbs present a danger.


By MIKE DUNHAM
Anchorage Daily News