AMU Emergency Management Original Public Safety

EDM Wednesday Briefing: Strong Winds Plague California

Emergency and disaster management briefing for October 13, 2021: Strong winds downed trees and power lines and started new wildfires in California; at least 30,000 residents in the Los Angeles area were without power after strong winds on Monday; Highway 64 lane closures and disruptions in Tennessee are likely as TVA stages equipment for Ocoee Dam infrastructure maintenance; a Catholic high school in Pittsburgh was evacuated on Tuesday for a bomb threat; Chinese port congestion drops by 50% in just 18 days; the NHC forecast for the development of a surface trough of low pressure is only 10%; the replacement of the Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River in NJ has been unanimously approved; and PG&E plans for more PSPS on Thursday for the forecast high wind threat.

1. Strong winds downed trees and power lines across California’s Central Coast, sparking a wildfire west of Santa Barbara. The wildfire prompted evacuations and closed U.S. 101, part of the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) near Refugio State Beach, as the blaze moved toward the ocean. Another fire, caused by a tree falling on a power line, was quickly extinguished by firefighters at Hearst San Simeon State Park.

2. Damaging winds left thousands without power across the Los Angeles area in southern California on Monday. Downed trees damaged vehicles and toppled power lines, cutting power to about 30,000 Los Angeles Department of Water and Power customers. By Tuesday morning, the majority of power was restored; however, cleanup continues around the area ahead of another round of forecast high winds on Thursday.

3. Infrastructure replacement and maintenance is set to begin on the No. 1 Dam on the Ocoee River in Tennessee. Traffic along Highway 64 near the No. 1 overlook will be reduced to a single lane from October 19-21 as equipment is staged and barges are loaded for the replacement of the spillway gate hoists. Operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), the dam is one of three along the Ocoee River, which was host to the 1996 Olympics whitewater rafting competition.

4. Students and staff were evacuated from a Catholic high school in Pittsburgh on Tuesday after a bomb threat. The incident occurred at the Saint Benedict the Moor School of Pittsburgh at around 11 a.m. Five separate calls were made to phone in the threat to the school. After a police investigation, the school was allegedly declared safe.

5. The congestion at Chinese ports has allegedly dropped by nearly 50% over the past 18 days. According to reports, the number of ships at anchor off the Shanghai/Ningbo Port dropped from 153 container ships on September 24 to just 81 on October 11. Rates for shipping containers also dropped by an average of 30% but rose again on Monday, although they did not rise to previous record-high rates.

6. Locally heavy rains over Hispaniola, Turks and Caicos, and the southeastern Bahamas will likely be the only threat from a tropical disturbance in the Caribbean Ocean. The National Hurricane Center (NHC) noted that the surface trough of low pressure is producing disorganized showers and thunderstorms, but only has a 10% chance of development. The broad area of low pressure is forecast to interact with a frontal system and unfavorable upper-level winds, likely preventing any strengthening of the system.

7. In a unanimous vote, the NJ Transit Board of Directors approved a contract to replace the Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River. The current railway bridge has caused multiple issues due to its failure to close properly, resulting in lengthy delays for commuters using rail transportation, including NJ Transit and Amtrak. The new bridge will be 25 feet higher, permitting larger water vessels to pass beneath it. It will also allow trains to travel at a much higher speed – 90 mph versus the current 30 mph – increasing capacity by approximately 14% along the train line.

8. As many as 29,000 customers are facing potential power cutoffs due to forecast windy weather on Thursday. Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) by Pacific Gas & Electric may occur for residents in at least 19 California counties, including Solano and Yolo counties. This would be the second wind event this week that prompted PSPS across the state. However, meteorologists at PG&E continue to monitor forecasts and will update the potential planned outages as needed.

Kimberly Arsenault serves as an intern at the Cleveland/Bradley County Emergency Management Agency where she works on plan revisions and special projects. Previously, Kimberly spent 15 years in commercial and business aviation. Her positions included station manager at the former Midwest Express Airlines, as well as corporate flight attendant, inflight manager, and charter flight coordinator. Kimberly currently holds a master's degree in emergency and disaster management from American Public University.

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