Record winds wreak havoc last week
Gust blows Valdez newbie away – literally
Valdez Star photo
Officer Chad Clements of the Valdez Police Dept. inspects wind damage to commercial vehicles parked at the airport last week.
People new to Valdez often say they are blown away by its winter weather, but Zack Benes has proof. Benes – who moved to Valdez from Ohio last March – was literally blown away by high winds at the airport last Wednesday morning in an incident caught on video and that was later posted on the video sharing website YouTube.
“It was definitely one of the gnarliest things I’ve ever experienced,” Benes said after the incident, which can be found online at the following web address: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FTlRKnNQ-iA.
Benes, who works in the freight department of Era Aviation, was exiting the airport building after winds created a back draft into the boiler stack and set off the building’s alarm system.
He was trying to make his way to a work colleague’s vehicle when he got caught in a high wind gust that forced him in the opposite direction, down to the ground and then blew him and estimated 60 feet and into the path of a city pickup truck occupied by Jerry O’Brien from the city’s capital facilities department. Obrien had already evacuated the building and was waiting out the windstorm when he spotted Benes being blown in his direction.
The two became fast friends as the winds raged, punishing parked vehicles with broken windows, dumpsters crossed streets and large numbers of trees were uprooted and fell. Street signs were not spared either. Numerous stop signs and other directional signs were downed by the winds – even those posted by the National Weather Service.
“Our metal sign we put up to keep people out of our snowfield got ripped off,” Peggy Perales, top official in Valdez with the National Weather Service. And she doesn’t mean stolen. The winds literally toppled concrete mounted signage throughout town, Port Valdez and Thompson Pass.
Outlying areas fared even worse.
“The Valdez Office of the National Weather Service recorded wind gusts up to 96 (miles per hour) on Tuesday in town,” Perales said in a public information statement posted on the NOAA website. “At the Valdez Marine Terminal…on the south side of Port Valdez…wind gusts to near 120 (miles per hour) were recorded. In Thompson Pass…frequent wind gusts as high as 117 (miles per hour) and a peak gust of over 150 (miles per hour) was recorded before the sensors went off line.”
The US Coast Guard halted oil tanker movement from the terminal, while Valdez City Schools made a rare decision to close all three schools Thursday.
Dolores Gard, who is retired from the front office of Hermon Hutchens Elementary School after many years of service, questioned the need for the cancellation. Gard said she could only recall to school closures due to weather in over 30 years, once in January of 1980 and once in January 1990.
District superintendent Jacob Jensen, the final decider for such matters, said he ultimately decided to call off school for the day after hearing concerns from First Student, the district’s contracted bus service.
Valdez Star photo
The LDS church on Meals Ave. was smote by a line of downed trees during the windstorm last Wednesday.
“The emergency hatches were blowing open on top of the bus,” said Monica Conger, location manager for First Student, talking about the treacherous conditions during Wednesday’s bus routes. Students were hiding behind trees trying to find shelter from the winds, and older kids were forced to try to protect smaller ones from the high gusts.
“I just think it was safer that way,” she said of Thursday’s cancellation.
By Thursday afternoon the winds calmed considerably just as a cold snap set in, setting cold weather records for the week.
While veterans of Valdez weather were busy gathering lost trash cans, repairing unhinged roofs and removing downed trees, Benes said he’s staying in Valdez, no matter how much it blows him away.
“The winds aren’t going to chase me off,” he said.