Weird winter windstorm leaves path of destruction

Much of the Bay Area spent Tuesday picking up after a windstorm.

The untimely wind event left widespread effects: downed trees, property damage, and power outages.

"We were inside when the tree fell and we heard it," said Todd Fiori, who lives on Montecito Avenue in Santa Rosa.

Monday night, a 100 foot fir fell, damaging Fiori's car and destroying a neighboring cottage on the same property.   

"And it felt like it was in our house, because it shook our whole house," added Fiori.

Tuesday evening, a woman who said she had rented the one-bedroom for 7 years returned to the site, but said she was too shaken to speak on camera.

When the tree toppled, she said she was already grabbing a bag and her two dogs to get out during the howling storm.

"The most important thing is nobody was hurt," said Fiori, "although insurance is a hassle, our neighbor is the nicest lady in the world and I feel bad for her with no where to live."

Santa Rosa Fire Department responded to dozens of calls overnight, many of them from the same neighborhoods where high winds preceded a firestorm four years ago.

"It was an active night, definitely had a lot of people on edge," said Paul Lowenthal, Santa Rosa Assistant Fire Marshal.

"It kept us busy, especially on the north side of town, a lot of calls for emergencies with different power lines and trees down."

A wildfire east of Geyserville in Sonoma County might have taken off as gusts topped 80 mph. But fortunately, it was somewhat sheltered from the direct wind. 

"The cause is under investigation but crews are reporting there are power lines down," said Shepley Schroth-Cary, Chief of the Gold Ridge Fire District.

Over the duration of the wind event, PG&E reports some 268,000 customers lost power.

By Tuesday evening at 9 pm, only about 7000 had not been restored.

"It must have gone out sometime last night," said San Jose resident Barbara Morrison, whose neighborhood was affected.

"I woke up in the dark, got ready for work in the dark, and then I couldn't open my garage door."

The outages were storm-caused, not pre-emptive blackouts ordered by PG&E.

"We really saw a very impactful storm, but we were prepared with a plan, and it's been all hands on deck to get out there and restore our customers," said Tamar Sarkissian, a PG&E spokesperson.

Strong, erratic winds are common in the fall but usually gone by winter, unusual enough for climate scientists to take note. 

"It could be one of those events that happens once every hundred years, and we just happened to be around for it," said Dr. Alison Bridger, Atmospheric Scientist at San Jose State University.

"It could also be yet another sign of a changing climate."

Whatever it is, fire agencies would certainly rather see the sustained strong gusts in January than September. 

"We don't ever want to experience this type of wind event in the fire season. We'll take it this time of year, anytime," said Santa Rosa's Lowenthal.

Debora Villalon is a reporter for KTVU.  Email Debora at and follow her on Twitter