Windstorm blows through IWV

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Windstorm blows through IWVHigh winds that pummeled the Indian Wells Valley last Wednesday left a brown fog hovering over the valley, closed major highways and caused some property damage. But officials report that early mobilization of law enforcement and volunteers helped avoid any major traffic accidents.

“If you look at historical information, that was not the worst windstorm we’ve ever had, but it is still a pretty rare event,” said China Lake Meteorologist Tamara Wal ters. “The highest winds we saw were about 50 miles per hour out here at the airfield. On a typical windy day, wind usually tops out about 35 or 40 mph.”

Walters said that March is normally a windy month. “But we usually have our strong winds a little earlier in the season. That said, it’s been a year for unusual weather.”

She attributed atypical weather to the weather’s being in a “changing” mode. “When I look at the National Weather Service sites, it looks like we may be leading into a strong El Nino year next winter. Which would be nice!”

Inyokern Airport CEO Scott Seymour said that his facility recorded sustained winds of 50 mph, with gusts of up to 68 mph. The wind was strong enough to knock over a utility pole in the terminal parking lot, though he said the rest of the damage was fairly minor.

The wind also disrupted operations, since it was too windy for anyone to land at IYK.

“It seems like we see this kind of wind about once every other year,” said Seymour. “This is the time of year where we get wind every day, but it’s not usually that punishing.”

In town, one notable site of damage was the Clarion marquee, which was destroyed in the storm.

Sgt. Mike Myers, director of traffic safety for Ridgecrest Police Department, said that his department received a request from CalTrans and California Highway Patrol to close Ridgecrest Boulevard and Inyokern Road because of the brownout.

After confirming the visibility issues, he placed officers at the points of closure. “We also had volunteers from the Community Emer-gency Response Team and Police and Citizens Together deployed at different locations to help monitor traffic and track developments within city limits,” said Myers.

He said he believed the assistance of volunteers and the advisories passed through social media probably helped keep drivers safe and on alert.

By early afternoon nearly every point of egress out of IWV had been temporarily closed. High-profile traffic, including semis, were prohibited from travel until 6 p.m. For hours, lines of trucks could be seen waiting out the storm alongside nearby highways.

Although data is difficult to track in real time, many also observe a spike in respiratory complications when such weather blows into town.

“Many healthcare providers in this valley have noted that there seems to be a correlation between emergency room, urgent care and office visits for people with chronic lung conditions during and following events like the one we saw last week,” said Dr. Larry Cosner, who has been treating patients locally since the 1980s.

He said that the best way for those vulnerable to such conditions to defend against exacerbated respiratory distress comes down to avoidance. “As a general rule, it’s best to stay indoors and refrain from intense physical activity.”

Story First Published: 2014-04-02