Seattle cleans up: high winds knock out power to hundreds of thousands

Wind damage in the Seattle area on Sunday, January 6, 2019. (Photo: Puget Sound Energy)

A quick burst of powerful winds blew through Seattle and the central Puget Sound area over the weekend. The storm knocked down large trees and power lines late Saturday night, and almost a quarter-million people woke up early Sunday with no electricity.

Puget Sound Energy (PSE), which serves around 1.1 million customers, reported that about 220,000 of those customers had no power Sunday morning. By Sunday afternoon, about 147,000 customers were still experiencing outages. Power was restored to all but 52,000 customers by early this morning (Monday), according to PSE’s website, but outages still linger. According to, nearly 40,000 customers in the region are still waiting for their electricity to come back on as of noon local time today (3:00 p.m. EST).

“We know it’s difficult to be without power, especially on cold winter days,” PSE spokesman Andrew Padula told the Seattle Times on Sunday. “We’re working as quickly and safely as possible.”

Padula also said that the utility’s app crashed Sunday morning because so many people were trying to view PSE’s outage map.

According to the company’s Twitter feed, crews worked through the night Sunday and continue to make good progress today. However, PSE representatives tell FreightWaves that some customers in Pierce and King Counties may have to wait until mid-week to get their power back because these areas had much more damage than others.

Falling trees crashed onto cars near Enumclaw (King County). The garage of a family who lost power in Covington (King County) caught fire because of an unattended candle, according to Kyle Ohashi of the Kent Regional Fire Authority. A power outage was blamed for a nationwide ground stop of flights on Seattle-based Alaska Airlines. Around 25 flights were delayed and five were canceled Sunday morning, according to the Associated Press.

Padula said PSE was using helicopters to survey damage because fallen trees had blocked roads in some rural areas. Utility crews from other parts of Washington have been assisting PSE in the cleanup. Also, a number of school districts including Kent, Puyallup, Sumner, and Tahoma were closed today. So was South Seattle College, and several other districts and individual schools opened late.

The fierce wind gusts, which reached 60 mph in areas of central Puget Sound, began to hit just after 1:00 a.m. PST on Sunday.

“That gave us a burst of south winds as the storm continued to move north along the I-5 corridor,” National Weather Service (NWS) meteorologist Jeff Michalski told the Seattle Times. “It was a quick burst of one to two hours of high wind, and then it was gone.”

Wind measurements at the Highway 520 bridge in Seattle rose from zero to 45 mph in less than an hour. The strongest winds in the area were recorded near Puget Sound, Michalski added. By 4:00 a.m., the winds had died down and the NWS cancelled High Wind Warnings that it posted ahead of the storm.

The NWS warned people to avoid downed power lines because sometimes they may be lives wires, meaning they’re still energized with deadly amounts of voltage. Also, people should not use gas stoves for heat or fire up barbecues or generators indoors because they can produce deadly levels of carbon monoxide.

Beginning late tonight, rain will move into the areas hit by the weekend winds. The wet weather will stick around for the rest of the week, but PSE officials tell FreightWaves that crews will keep working to restore electricity as long as conditions are safe.

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Nick Austin, Director of Weather Analytics and Senior Meteorologist

In his 17 years of weather forecasting experience, Nick worked on air at WBBJ-TV and WRCB-TV, including time spent doing weather analysis and field reporting. He received his Bachelor of Science in Meteorology from Florida State University as well as a Bachelor of Science in Management from Georgia Institute of Technology. Nick is also a member of the American Meteorological Society and National Weather Association. As a member of the weather team at WBBJ-TV in Jackson, Tennessee, Nick was nominated for a Mid-South Emmy for live coverage of a major tornado outbreak in 2008. As part of the weather team at WRCB-TV in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Nick shared the Chattanooga Times-Free Press Best of the Best award for “Best Weather Team” for eight consecutive years. Nick earned his National Weather Association Broadcasting Seal in 2005.