Weather

Power knocked out, woman injured as strong winds blast Centre County

Alpha Fire Company crews respond to an approximately 100-foot-long oak tree that fell on a Ferguson Township home early Monday morning due to high-speed wind gusts, trapping the homeowner under a section of the roof.
Alpha Fire Company crews respond to an approximately 100-foot-long oak tree that fell on a Ferguson Township home early Monday morning due to high-speed wind gusts, trapping the homeowner under a section of the roof. Photo provided

Wind gusts topping 50 mph blew through Centre County late Sunday into Monday, wreaking havoc on the region’s power grid and leading to at least one injury.

An 86-year-old Ferguson Township woman was trapped in a sunroom when a towering oak tree toppled onto her Breezewood Drive home and collapsed part of the roof, said Buck Harpster, an assistant chief at the Alpha Fire Company. It took about an hour to extricate her as responders stabilized part of the structure shortly before dawn.

The woman, whose name was not released, was in stable condition at UPMC Altoona, according to the Alphas. The home is still liveable, Harpster said.

Still, her sunroom bore some of the region’s worst damage as the National Weather Service issued a high-wind warning for a swath of Pennsylvania, from Warren to Lancaster counties, until 1 p.m. Monday. That warning became an advisory Monday afternoon was set to expire by 10 p.m.

The peak hour for wind activity was between 11 p.m. and midnight Sunday, said Mike Colbert, an NWS meteorologist in State College. The highest wind speeds were 68 mph, recorded twice Sunday evening on the top of Beaver Stadium.

Closer to the ground, gusts of 56 mph were recorded at the NWS station on Penn State’s campus at 11:20 p.m. The University Park Airport recorded winds of 55 mph at 11:36 p.m.; Park Forest, 52 mph at 11:05 p.m.

The wind downed power lines, dropped tree limbs and led to hazardous conditions, traffic restrictions and power outages across the county. Miles Township Fire Chief Eric Miller said his company was taking calls all night.

State Route 64 in Walker Township was closed in both directions for about two hours Monday morning, thanks to live wires that fell across the road, according to state police. Then Route 44 over the Madisonburg Mountain was shut from Route 64 in Walker Township to the base of the mountain in Madisonburg about 6:45 a.m., Miller said.

The Howard area was hit the worst with power outages. At 4 p.m. Monday, WestPenn Power’s Storm Center tracker was showing 2,446 outages in the county, with 396 reported in Howard Township and 356 in the borough. There were 341 more outages in nearby Curtin Township and 254 in Liberty Township.

Downtown Bellefonte also got hit hard with outages. The Lemont post office was closed for most of Monday because it didn’t have power.

The NWS doesn’t keep records of wind gusts, so it doesn’t know exactly how these gusts stack up against those in the past, Colbert said. But what happened Sunday night into Monday was “pretty rare,” he said.

A similar event last March didn’t last as long, he said.

A “very strong surface cyclone” that moved into the Great Lakes helped deliver the latest winds, Colbert said. A strong high-pressure system moved in behind it, and a strong pressure gradient between the high- and low-pressure systems whipped up the gusts, he said.

“Air tends to flow from high pressure to low pressure across the gradient, and winds have to keep up to fill that imbalance,” Colbert said.

Wind speeds started to diminish Monday afternoon, but were still expected to be 25-35 mph, with gusts of up to 50 mph, according to the NWS. Speeds were expected to decrease after 10 p.m. By Tuesday morning, Colbert said, winds should be about 10 mph with 20 mph gusts.

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Lauren Muthler covers what’s happening right now in Centre County, from breaking news, road closures and weather, to cool and interesting stories she finds along the way. Oh, and Penn State wrestling.

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