As power crews make progress, another windstorm threatens

SEATTLE - Power crews made steady progress Saturday in restoring electrical service from a week-long series of storms as temperatures rose and winds died down through the day.

But forecasters warned of another possible complication on Sunday - a high-wind watch for portions of storm-battered Western Washington that could bring down even more power lines. Wind gusts of over 60 mph are possible in some areas, forecasters said.

Puget Sound Energy spokesman Andy Wappler said nearly 200 crews are out repairing power outages across the region caused by days of heavy snow and freezing rain that were followed by strong winds on Saturday morning.

He said PSE, the region's largest electrical utility, has brought in crews from as far away as Arizona, Montana and Colorado to help restore power.

The crippling weather took down thousands of trees that brought power lines and power poles with them, causing widespread blackouts. At the height of the storm, on Thursday, more than 300,000 homes lost electrical service.

As of 3:15 p.m. Saturday, about 180,000 customers were still without power, but Wappler said electrical service would be restored to many neighborhoods by Saturday evening, and that most homes would see their power back by Sunday night.

Some harder-to-reach areas might have to wait until Tuesday or even Wednesday, he said.

In Snohomish County, 6,000 remained without power as of 4:15 p.m. Saturday, along with an estimated 1,200 to 1,500 in Tacoma.

But there remains at least one more fly in the ointment, officials said - a high wind watch has been issued for some parts of Western Washington from late Sunday morning through Sunday evening.

The strongest winds are expected in the San Juan Islands, Whidbey Island, the Port Townsend area, Whatcom and Skagit counties, and also along the central and northern Washington coast, where southerly winds could gust over 60 mph.

In the central Puget Sound, gusts as high as 35 to 45 mph are possible. Increasing rains also are expected. Another windstorm could hit on Tuesday.

The worry is that the ground is so saturated, it won't take much wind to knock down more trees, leading to more power issues and damage.