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Most power restored as crews clean up

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014 11:37 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014 10:01 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Philip Marruffo/pmarruffo@saukvalley.com)
Power and tree crews work on power lines along an alley Tuesday morning in Sterling. The Sauk Valley is recovering from a powerful storm that whipped through in less than an hour Monday afternoon.

It was short and anything but sweet.

The summer tempest that raged eastward through Whiteside County on Monday afternoon, petering out in less than an hour as it hit Lee County, still managed to snap hundreds, and maybe thousands of trees like, well, like twigs, and cut the electrical power to more than 10,000 ComEd customers.

Tuesday evening, 282 customers in Whiteside County and five in Lee County were without power, ComEd spokesman Paul Callighan said.

“We will work into the night to get power restored to those customers,” Callighan said.

According to Tim Gross, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in the Quad Cities, the line of storms moving through the area had one particularly bad boy, a bruiser that raged through Morrison around 2:15 p.m. and intensified as it came kicking and screaming through the Sterling-Rock Falls area about 25 mph.

It came on quickly – the weather service issued a severe weather warning for Whiteside at 2:57 p.m. – then gradually ended its tantrum as it moved on into Lee County, losing steam around 3:30 p.m.

The Whiteside County Airport reported a steady wind of 32 mph, with gusts up to 52 mph, but that might not tell the whole story, Gross said.

This particular storm illustrated a weather phenomenon called precipitation loading: There was so much moisture in the air that when the storm came, it started pushing down the rain. That displaces the air, spreads it out and makes wind speeds even higher, he said.

Precipitation loading means microbursts, and microbursts are tree-killers.

Rock Falls can testify to that.

“This was one of the worst wind-damage storms we’ve had in years around here,” Mayor Bill Wescott said Tuesday morning.

He couldn’t begin to estimate how many trees were damaged or down, but did say city crews worked Monday afternoon and all through the night to clean up the worst of the debris and to restore power to the 50 percent of customers who lost their city service.

As of Tuesday morning, 100 to 200 customers still were without power, and although city workers went home to catch some shut-eye, Princeton crews were in town providing mutual aid, working to get Rock Falls electrical service fully restored, he said.

Water and sewer department workers also were working to make sure streets were open, Wescott said.

The city will pick up debris on Tuesday. Residents were asked to pile the waste curbside, in manageable stacks and out of the way of traffic.

In Sterling, Rick Powers, director of public works, was dealing with about 45 reports of trees that either hit power lines or otherwise required barricades, although “we know there’s a lot more than that,” he said.

Crews were scrambling to respond to residents’ calls until about 6 p.m. Monday, then had to sit back and wait for ComEd to get to the lines. They were back out cleaning debris on city streets, alleys and sidewalks Tuesday, and were still taking calls.

It’s been some time since he’s seen a storm cause this much damage, Powers said.

“If you don’t have a good wind like this for a while, then you get a lot of weak branches,” he explained. “And when the wind does come through, down they go.”

Sterling crews, too, helped residents pick up the mess. People can put their storm-related debris at the curb or in the alley, whichever is easiest, and don’t worry about cutting it down to the usually required size, Powers said.

Have it ready to be picked up by end of day Monday, which is Labor Day, and crews will start gathering it Tuesday. Once they clear an area, though, they won’t be coming back, Powers said. After storm cleanup, regular yard-waste rules will apply.

Tree damage in Sterling also was extensive.

Doug Jacobs, the Park District’s director of parks and planning, said Lawrence Park was hit the worst and was closed until ComEd could get there fix power lines downed by a fallen cottonwood.

The Dillon Home Museum lost its big sugar maple. It was lying roots up in the front yard Tuesday morning, and a large limb from a big walnut tree was blocking the west parking lot.

“There are limbs really kind of every place ... Redfield, Sinnissippi, Hoover,” Jacobs said.

He blames not only the severity of the storm, but also disease.

“We have a lot of trees that have been affected by the emerald ash borer,” he said. “I think there’s an issue with the general health of the trees.”

Whiteside County’s seat, on the leading edge of the system, really took it on the chin.

At least 200 trees were damaged, most snapping off at a fork or otherwise losing branches, but many also were completely uprooted, taking power lines down with them, Morrison Mayor Everett Pannier said.

“That’s what primarily caused all our power outage,” Pannier said. From when the storm hit around 2:15 p.m. until about 10:30 that night, the whole town was dark. By 9:30 this morning, power had been restored to the northeast section of the city and the business district, and “hopefully, by the end of day we’ll have it all back.”

The mess also closed two main arteries into the city for a time. U.S. Route 30 was closed from about 2:30 to 5 p.m., and state Route 78 was closed until about 10:30 p.m., which meant traffic had to be rerouted through city side streets, the mayor said.

That, of course, caused its own problems: Because trees were down in all the residential areas, the rerouted traffic often had to be rerouted again.

It’s going to be a crazy couple of days for Morrison’s public works department. Although technically homeowners are supposed to clean up debris on their own property, “We’ve told people if you can move stuff to the curb, we’ll pick it up in the next couple of days,” Pannier said. “Get it to the curb and we’ll get rid of it.”

In a news release sent Tuesday morning, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources said power also had been out since 2:30 p.m. Monday at Morrison Rockwood State Park, but the park remains open.

All in all, “It’s just a mess,” Pannier said.

“If you need firewood, come on over.”

Storm cleanup

Rock Falls

Crews will pick up debris Tuesday. Residents are asked to pile the waste curbside, in manageable stacks and out of the way of traffic. Call 815-622-1106 for more information.

Sterling

Residents should put their storm-related debris curbside or in the alley, whichever is easiest, by end of day Monday, which is Labor Day. They need not cut it down to the usually required size. Crews will start cleanup Tuesday. Call 815-632-6657 for more information.

Morrison

City crews will pick up debris curbside for the next few days. Call 815-772-7657 for more information.

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