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Santa Ana Winds Lash San Diego Area

Palm trees sway in high winds in the Golden Hill neighborhood of San Diego Co...

Photo by KPBS Staff

Above: Palm trees sway in high winds in the Golden Hill neighborhood of San Diego County. Jan. 19, 2021.

Strong Santa Ana winds kicked up in the San Diego area Tuesday, downing trees and power lines while increasing wildfire hazards across the rain-starved region.

In the early afternoon, the National Weather Service reported local gusts as high as 77 mph in the East County — at Big Black Mountain and Hellhole Canyon — and 46 mph closer to the coast, at the U.S.-Mexico border in Otay Mesa.

Listen to this story by Matt Hoffman.

“Even if you don't think you’re in a wind-prone area, you’re going to see high winds and it’s a dangerous situation,” said National Weather Service Meteorologist Alex Tardy. “You never think it’s going to be a tree in our neighborhood or it’s never going to be our vehicle.”

The blustery conditions, which were expected to last through Wednesday, sent trees and utility standards toppling throughout Ramona, according to the San Diego County Sheriff's Department. One of the downed power poles forced a closure of Hanson Lane between Barnett and San Vicente roads, the agency reported.

Other wind-related problems at midday included an overturned big rig on Interstate 8, near state Route 79 in Descanso, and a large fallen tree limb blocking an eastbound lane on state Route 94, in the area of Lucky Six Truck Trail in Dulzura, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Due to the dry, windy conditions and arid vegetation across the county, the NWS warned of "elevated" to "critical" fire danger. The agency advised that the winds were "not the typical canyon-and-passes Santa Ana winds" but "widespread" ones.

In Valley Center winds knocked down trees and powerlines. The Valley Fire Protection District responded to a few calls for the downed lines and trees by mid-day Tuesday.

“Batten down the hatches,” said Valley Center Fire Battalion Chief and Fire Marshal Jim Davidson. “Because that’s the only thing we can do right now.”

A high-wind advisory was in effect until further notice for Interstate 8, from Alpine to the Imperial County line. Drivers of large, "high profile" vehicles, such as semi-trailers and RVs, were advised to avoid the stretch during the duration of the gusty conditions.

Officials with San Diego Gas & Electric said they were closely monitoring the situation and preparing for an emergency response in case their power grid wound up impacted. The utility urged locals to help prevent outages by removing dead trees and overhanging branches near structures, and securing patio furniture, loose yard objects, roofs, balconies, tarps, pool covers and Mylar balloons, which can cause blackouts if they come into contact with electrical-transmission equipment.

With a chance of rain and snow also forecast overnight for the mountains and deserts, motorists were "urged to drive cautiously, as a leading cause of power outages during wet weather is drivers hitting power poles or transformers," according to an SDG&E statement.

High-elevation locales in the East County were expected to receive snow, possibly several inches, from tonight into early Wednesday, meteorologists advised.

An NWS flash-flood watch was scheduled to be in effect for local desert communities from late this evening until Wednesday night.

The Weather Service also predicted rip currents and other ocean hazards, including dangerous boating conditions for the inner and outer coastal waters, through Wednesday.

Reported by Matt Hoffman , Video by Roland Lizarondo

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