LA QUINTA, Calif. - A powerful storm system brought high winds and blowing sand to the Coachella valley Saturday.
The storm was strong enough to cause wrecks, close roads, and down trees and power lines. People scrambled inside to get away from the sand and dust.
Wind gusts of between 80-90 mph prompted the closure of the Palm Springs Tramway today, and employees were attempting to bring down about 20 people who were temporarily stranded at the top station, an attraction spokeswoman said.
"We're bringing them down as wind allows," said Tramway public affairs manager Lena Zimmerscheid, who said the decision to close the tram was made about 11:15 a.m.
Zimmerschied said the tram is scheduled to reopen at 8 a.m. Sunday, weather permitting.
Southern California Edison reported more than 25,000 customers without service in Palm Springs and the Coachella valley from Desert Hot Springs to Rancho Mirage.
Another 5,000 Edison customers were without power in the high desert including Morongo valley, Yucca valley, Landers and Twentynine Palms. Downed power lines and snapped power poles were reported in Palm Springs and throughout the area. Edison said it was aware of the outages, but had no estimate of when all service might be restored.
High winds, blowing sand and dust closed three major roadways in and out of Palm Springs including Indian Avenue, Gene Autry Trail and Vista Chino. They were blocked to traffic at through their White Water wash crossings south of Interstate 10. Blowing sand and dust reduced visibility down to zero on those roads.
The National Weather Service said a high wind warning remains in effect for the Coachella valley until 10 p.m. Saturday night. The strongest winds were expected through Saturday afternoon, then gradually dying down by evening.
The California Highway Patrol reported a big rig semi-truck rolled over on its side and down a ravine west of Desert Hot Springs along State Highway 62 just north of Dillon Road.
The winds were powerful enough in the east valley to close Highway 86 from Avenue 52 to Avenue 50. A multi-vehicle wreck was reported there. Middleton was also closed from Harrison Drive to Avenue 66.
Gusting winds snapped a sign pole near Thermal at State Route 86 just south of 66th Avenue and to brought traffic to a stop along Jackson Street at 66th. Low visibility was being blamed for the stopped vehicles. The high winds also downed a power line in the area.
Police and firefighters were called out to block bridges and wash crossings in La Quinta at Washington and Adams Street. Motorists were turned away from the crossings because of blinding sand and dust whirling through the wash. Tumbleweeds were also seen rolling across roadways and parking lots.
The National Weather Service forecast winds from the west at 25-to-35 mph with gusts of up to 65 miles per hour Saturday afternoon. Isolated gusts were expected of up to 90 mph.
Motorists driving high profile vehicles were encouraged to seek shelter and stay off the roads. Affected roads include Interstate 15, Highways 395 and 247 in the high desert, and Highway 111 in the Coachella valley.
Stay with News Channel 3 for continuing coverage of this wind storm.
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