Power poles snap like toothpicks in ‘outflow winds’ phenomenon

A Grand Junction firefighter surveys a power pole snapped off at its base with power lines stretched across 25 Road about a half-mile into the desert north of the Highline Canal bridge on Monday. The pole was one of four that were broken off a few feet above the ground by an extreme wind event. Power was cut off to a number of homes served by Grand Valley Power.

A sudden gust of wind and a disturbance in the hot, dry weather are suspected of causing four power poles to break and resulted in a power outage for thousands of homes in Grand Junction on Monday night.

The power poles, located on Bureau of Land Management property in the desert north of I Road on 25 Road, looked like toothpicks snapped off at their bases.

A red Toyota Tacoma drove into the downed power lines and had minor cosmetic damage, but no one was hurt, according to Colorado State Patrol Trooper Dan Chermok. He said the occupants of the vehicle were able to exit the truck, and the lines were not energized at the time.

Witnesses to the sudden weather change reported a column of dust moving through the area about
6 p.m., with some calling it a “microburst,” according to Chermok.

Meteorologist Dennis Phillips referred to the incident as “outflow winds,” a weather phenomenon that happens when cold, dense wind rushes to the ground.

Phillips said the staff at the National Weather Service saw the change in the weather, including some rain that was falling near the Bookcliffs but evaporated before it hit the ground, which is called virga.

The staff estimated in some places, visibility was reduced to about a mile as the dust from the cold air descended rapidly and forced the desert dust into the air.

“It’s kind of like dropping a rock in a pond,” Phillips said, describing the ripples of dust radiating outward from the rush of cold air hitting the ground.

Wind gusts up to 60 mph were measured at the Weather Service’s office at Grand Junction Regional Airport.

The downed lines resulted in a power outage for more than 5,200 homes served by Grand Valley Power, according to the cooperative’s outage map.

Power was restored by 7:30 p.m., according to the cooperative.


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