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Wind gusts set to usher in the New Year on Whidbey
With the Christmas snow melting away, Whidbey Islanders will have to get ready for a different kind of severe weather for the new year.
Forecasts call for high-speed winds to buffet the island in the coming days. Gusts could hit as high as 59 miles per hour on New Year's Eve, Dec. 31.
Severe winds means that residents could experience power outages caused by trees and branches crashing into power lines. Puget Sound Energy officials said workers have been busy throughout the year with hopes of preventing such outages from occurring.
"We prepare every day throughout the year. We don't wait for forecasts," said Dorothy Bracken, spokesperson for Puget Sound Energy.
She said PSE has spent $12.5 million throughout its service area removing branches and trees that could threaten power lines. On Whidbey Island, work crews have focused on Central and South Whidbey, where the power outages have been more frequent in recent years.
"We're always bracing for fierce windstorms," Bracken said, adding work crews also examine the condition of power poles and the lines.
The wind comes after more than a foot of snow buried Whidbey Island just before Christmas, prompting schools to close and motorists to spin out.
Officials will closely monitor weather forecasts in the coming days as the windstorm draws closer. That way, work crews can be placed in the areas where the damage looks to be severe, Bracken said. As of Tuesday, the high-speed winds were set to hit the area Thursday evening.
In preparation for a possible severe windstorm, Bracken said PSE will contact crews throughout Washington, Oregon and British Columbia, so they're available should the need arise.
Puget Sound Energy made similar preparations during the Christmas week storms, where forecasts called for winds as high as 90 miles per hour in some areas of the Puget Sound. However, the winds were confined farther to the mountainous east.
During the snow storm last week, approximately 1,000 homes on Whidbey Island lost power. Many of those power outages stemmed from branches, weighed down by snow, falling from trees and into power lines.
With the wind picking up, it's likely that some branches weakened by snow will be knocked free, and some will hit the power lines.