A fishing boat broke loose and drifted away. Wind lifted up a greenhouse. Thousands lost power.
Tuesday night's windstorm hit Southcentral Alaska with a soft punch. Predicted widespread gusts of 80 mph didn't materialize but the storm blew in with enough force to knock down trees, dismantle roofs and make a mess of things. Flooding at the Seward Airport deposited spawning salmon along the main runway.
In all, more than 11,000 electric customers from Houston to Hope lost power at some point, most of them early Wednesday morning, according to the three power companies serving the hard-hit area.
A weather observer reported gusts of 75 to 77 mph in Bear Valley, which had the highest winds, and in Portage Valley gusts reached 71 mph. But an upper Hillside meter only measured 58 mph gusts. At the Palmer airport, gusts were clocked at 58 mph; at Stevens Anchorage International Airport, gusts reached 49 mph, according to the National Weather Service.
In the storm, odd things happened. Cordova, a Prince William Sound fishing town, is used to heavy rain and high winds. Unlike Houston, Texas, it has a drainage system built for a deluge, said Cathy Sherman, who oversees the museum, library and public information, among other things, for the town of about 2,200.
"Everybody jokes that down there it's a hurricane and here it's just Tuesday," Sherman said.
A fishing boat named Kaybee owned by a longtime local fisherman broke loose from its moorings, escaped the harbor and came to rest on its side across Orca Inlet near Spike Island.
A dozen boats went out Wednesday morning to try to right it before the incoming tide filled it up, Sherman said. They towed it to shore so it could be repaired, she said.
People had enjoyed nice weather on Labor Day, sitting outside on decks, chilling and grilling. Nothing at her place was tied down.
"Flowerpots and grill lids went flying and are all over town," she said.
The roof started peeling off at Laura's Liquor across from the Cordova Center, which includes city hall, the museum and the library. Sherman closed the library early.
At the Clark home overlooking Eyak Lake, Darlene Clark and her husband watched the storm come in just before 7 p.m. Tuesday. They were glad he had staked their new greenhouse well.
"He wasn't worried about it going anywhere," she said.
Then he yelled for her.
"The entire greenhouse — and it's a 10-by-10 greenhouse — just lifted perfectly. It's up in the air. It's kind of hovering and moving away," Clark said. All of a sudden, it turned toward the house, slamming down into a wooded area before it hit.
She called it a "Wizard of Oz" moment. She still doesn't know where her cucumber plant went.
Down in Seward, the main airport runway flooded with rising water from the Resurrection River. The runway floods are becoming more common but a fix is being designed, said Shannon McCarthy, spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation.
Someone shot a picture of a salmon swimming along the runway.
"I'm hoping the salmon made it upstream. It looks like he was going the right direction," McCarthy said. "Dead fish on the airport after a flood is a concern — we remove them as quickly as possible because we don't want to attract eagles/ravens, etc."
When the National Weather Service predicted high winds, utility crews mobilized at the ready.
"We have 10 crews out right now," Julie Estey, spokeswoman for the Matanuska Electric Association, said mid-morning Wednesday. Others were on a mandated break after working through the night. Utility crews, contractors and land-clearing teams were all on duty during the storm, she said.
Some 5,433 customers — 10 percent of MEA members – were without power at 4:45 a.m., she said. Additional people lost power at other points in the storm.
Outages affecting MEA went from Houston and Willow down to Chugiak and Birchwood and across to Chickaloon and Glacier View, near the terminus of Matanuska Glacier.
Most outages affected small numbers of people. MEA prioritized repairs based on number of customers and special needs, Estey said. As of 3 p.m. Wednesday, 705 MEA customers still didn't have power, mainly around Willow and Caswell Lakes and from Sutton to Glacier View, according to MEA.
The damage was typical for the first big storm of fall, a time when trees are particularly vulnerable to premature death and damage, she said. The ground, wet from recent rains, doesn't hold roots tightly. Trees haven't yet lost their leaves.
Anchorage was hit hard too. Over the course of the storm, almost 3,000 customers of Municipal Light and Power, the utility serving downtown Anchorage, Midtown and surrounding neighborhoods, lost power due to downed trees, said spokeswoman Julie Harris.
One of the areas hardest hit was Mountain View in northeast Anchorage, where 580 customers lost power. ML&P crews worked through the storm and were able to quickly get 180 of them back on line. But it took hours for electricity to be restored for 400 more. Before noon, lights were on for all.
Almost 3,000 customers of Chugach Electric Association were without power as of 7:30 a.m. Wednesday. By mid-afternoon, the number without was down to about 300. Customers lost power in the Anchorage Bowl, Hope, Indian, Cooper Landing and, across Cook Inlet, in Tyonek, said spokeswoman Sarah Wiggers. Crews were trying to reach all the spots.
Detailed reports on the full extent of the outages will take a few days to compile, the utility representatives said.
To reduce the risk of fires from downed trees, the municipality of Anchorage is reopening its South Anchorage woodlot, which had just closed for the season. The lot, at 100th Avenue and C Street, will be open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. this Thursday through Monday, according to the Anchorage Fire Department.