- Associated Press - Thursday, December 1, 2011

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Some of the worst winds in years blasted through California overnight, sweeping through canyons, gusting up to 97 mph, and toppling trees and trucks while knocking out power to hundreds of thousands of people.

High winds also were reported elsewhere throughout the West, including 100-mph gusts that forced a Utah town to close schools.

“What’s driving this is a large, cold low-pressure system that’s currently centered over Needles, California. The strong winds are wrapping around it,” weather service forecaster Andrew Rorke said.

The system will sit and spin counterclockwise over the area for the next day, although “it won’t be quite as hellacious” as Wednesday night, Mr. Rorke said.

The National Weather Service issued high-wind warnings and advisories for parts of California, Utah, Nevada, Wyoming, Arizona and New Mexico. The front eventually will bring blustery weather to Oklahoma, Missouri and Indiana, he said.

Keith Curo of Pasadena, Calif., stops to look over the damage caused by a fallen tree at a Shell gas station on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2011, in Pasadena. Some of the worst winds in years blasted through California overnight, with gusts up to 97 mph. (AP Photo/Bret Hartman)
Keith Curo of Pasadena, Calif., stops to look over the damage caused ... more >

An estimated 300,000 customers in Southern California were without electricity Thursday morning.

“It seems like there’s been extensive damage across the county,” based on preliminary reports, said Bob Spencer, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works.

“It was a terrifying ride for me, coming here in pitch dark … and watching motorists take no notice of lights being out,” he said. “What the weather experts are telling us are that these probably are the worst windstorms to hit (the area) in more than a decade.”

High winds ripping through Utah overturned several semitrailer trucks on or near Interstate 15, and 54,000 customers were without power along Utah’s 120-mile Wasatch Front as high winds took down power lines.

Police asked schools to close in Centerville, where the National Weather Service reported a 102-mph gust. Mail delivery and trash pickup were cancelled.

San Francisco was spared any blackouts, but about 26,000 customers were without power in the Santa Cruz Mountains of Northern California.

In Southern California, high winds blew over at least six semitrailers before dawn on highways below the Cajon Pass in San Bernardino County, said California Highway Patrol Officer Mario Lopez. One trucker was taken to a hospital.

Twenty-three flights were diverted and several delayed beginning Wednesday at Los Angeles International Airport because of severe crosswinds and debris on runways, officials said. An hour-long power outage affected all passenger terminals.

The winds had died down by Thursday morning, but some delays were reported in flights, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said.

Northeast of Los Angeles, foothill communities were hit hard as the winds swept down the San Gabriel Mountains. A 97-mph gust was recorded Wednesday night at Whitaker Peak in Los Angeles County. High gusts Thursday morning topped 60 mph.

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