When Dwight Williams pulled into his driveway on the evening of Dec. 20, he thought something seemed a little off.
“Then I realized this big old tree that had been there forever was gone,” he said.
Instead of looming more than 100 feet above, the Douglas fir had collapsed, its roots ripped out of the ground during Thursday’s powerful wind storm that raced across Whidbey Island and Puget Sound.
“It broke my heart,” Williams said.
Two other Doug firs in nearby yards suffered the same fate — uprooted, toppled and laying like wounded giants. One of the root balls measured about 40 feet across. Its roots stuck out like tentacles in the mess of destruction.
“We’re celebrating our good fortune,” said Williams. “If that tree had fallen the other way, it would have chopped my house in half. It’s extraordinary none of our homes, cars or boats were damaged.”
The windstorm that struck Dec. 20 roared across a large swath of Western Washington from the Canadian border to Tenino, south of Olympia. About 323,000 customers of Puget Sound Energy were affected by a widespread power outage caused by downed local power lines and damaged transmission lines.
All of Whidbey Island hooked up to PSE service — about 37,000 residences and businesses — lost power about 11 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 20. Power was restored in some places within 12 to 15 hours while others went three to four days relying on generators, camp stoves, candles and lots of wood fires.
“Whidbey Island was one of the areas hardest hit by Thursday’s destructive windstorm,” PSE reported on its website.
“What’s different about this storm is the type and depth of damage to the electrical equipment,” the company stated. “Transmission lines are on the ground and poles are completely destroyed – the type of damage that takes longer to fix.”
Whidbey Island fire departments reported no injuries but responded to dozens of calls about downed lines and trees, stuck elevators and carbon monoxide alarms going off because of misuse of alternative power and cooking sources.
Two houses and the Greenbank Progressive Club were significantly damaged by downed trees. A high tide occurred the same day.
The day after Christmas,Williams and neighbor Lori Christian assessed the damage in their neighborhood known as Baby Island Heights. It’s located along Saratoga Beach near the intersection of Saratoga Road and East Harbor Road.
They speculated heavy rain had saturated the ground, weakening the grip of older trees that were then whipped around by the storm surge.
Christian said she looked at her wind meter during the storm and saw a reading of 61 mph. Then, the wind gauge blew off.
With chainsaw in hand, Daniel Brooks tackled Williams’ downed tree, cutting off sections before splitting it into wood stove-size pieces.
“Better to split it now then later,” he said.
Besides getting new close-to-home sources of firewood, goats also benefited from the Dec. 20 blow.
“They love evergreen branches,” Christian said, watching her three goats munching away on a pile of prickly green. “They are amazing.”
Just outside their pen, a small hill of evergreen branches caught their gaze. They head to the fence and stare.
“Sorry guys, this is for later. You have to eat what’s in the pen,” Christian told them.
Talking about the power outage, most of neighbors said they had endured the inconvenience until about 1:30 a.m. Monday, Dec. 24 or later. Friends with restored electricity had invited them over for showers, a common story of storm camaraderie heard around Whidbey.
“I think it’s the longest number of days without power since 2006,” Christian said.
As for the downed trees, and the many branches hanging precariously, they planned to call tree specialists, who no doubt are experiencing a booming business.
Maybe tree trimming would result in another informal gathering, Christian speculated.
“We’ll rent a chipper and have a neighborhood chipping party,” she said.