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Bothell police reported that State Route 527 was closed in both directions due to a tree that fell into power lines. (Credit: Bothell Police via Twitter)

The first of two big storm fronts swept through the Pacific Northwest today, leaving tens of thousands without power in Western Washington and stirring up a tornado on the Oregon Coast. And that’s just the start.

The second storm, representing the remnants of Pacific Typhoon Songda, is expected to hit with greater force on Saturday afternoon and evening, said Art Gaebel, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Seattle.

“It’s going to get pretty blustery,” he told GeekWire.

How blustery? That depends on the track of the storm. In a worst-case scenario, gusts of wind could exceed 70 mph. That may not hit the mark set in 1962 by the Northwest’s Columbus Day storm – but it could rival the Hanukkah Eve windstorm of 2006, which left more than a million without power for days.

“That’s still in play,” Gaebel said.

Today’s weather was wild enough: A tornado hit Oregon’s coast at Manzanita, sparking a state of emergency. The National Weather Service’s Portland office issued tornado warnings for an area in Washington state north of the Columbia River’s mouth, around Naselle.

The Seattle office reported winds gusting up to 63 mph in Grays Harbor County, and 43 mph at Sea-Tac International Airport and Everett’s Paine Field. Some airline passengers reported delays getting in and out of Sea-Tac, but airport spokesman Perry Cooper said the delays weren’t widespread. He advised checking with airlines before heading to the airport.

Washington State Ferries said its sailings were running up to 20 minutes behind schedule due to power outages and traffic lights that are out of commission.

Seattle City Light estimated that as many as 20,000 customers encountered outages this morning, although repair crews brought that number back down as the day wore on. Puget Sound Energy added nearly 30,000 to the tally of customers in the dark – and cautioned that it could take up to 24 hours or more to restore power in the event of a major storm.

That’s what’s looming on Saturday: The weather’s expected to calm down later today, then pick up again as the massive low-pressure system spawned by Songda passes through.

In his updated weather outlook, University of Washington professor Cliff Mass says a worst-case scenario could leave hundreds of thousands without power. “The key safety issue is to keep away from trees during the 4 to 6 hours of greatest threat,” Mass writes. “Typically, there are several deaths and injuries associated with falling trees, some of which occur when trees fall on moving cars.”

To deal with the aftermath of a storm, or other emergencies, the American Red Cross advises putting together a kit that includes up to two weeks’ supply of food and water, a flashlight, a portable radio, extra batteries and other essential supplies. Also, keep your mobile phones and backup batteries fully charged.

 

Wireless service providers are beefing up their networks to brace for the storm, but there’s a chance that power interruptions could affect mobile connectivity as well.

Here are some additional tips from Sprint:

  • In times of commercial power outages, a car adapter for your mobile phone should enable you to recharge the battery.
  • Keep phones and necessary accessories in a sealed plastic bag to avoid water damage.
  • Load family and emergency numbers into your mobile phone.
  • Use your camera phone to take digital pictures or video of your property and valuables before the storm hits, so you have “before” pictures in the event of any storm damage. Don’t forget to send them to your email account for safekeeping.
  • Wireless networks sometimes experience heavy traffic during emergency events, so rather than call, try sending text messages.

When the storm strikes, keep off the roads if you can. The National Weather Service’s Seattle office provided succinct advice on its Facebook page: “Prepare for tree damage and power outages. If you come across a flooded road, turn around, don’t drown!”

To keep up with the latest, check in with the weather service’s website as well as @NWSSeattle and @SEACityLight on Twitter. The hashtags for storm tweets include #wawx and #wawind.

There are also an array of mobile apps and mobile-optimized websites that give you the local angle on weather and outages:

  • Find It, Fix It, from the City of Seattle, for iOS and Android devices.
  • myPSE from Puget Sound Energy, for iOS, Android and Windows.
  • uWx for Android, from University of Washington Atmospheric Sciences.
  • Weather.gov from the National Weather Service, for iOS and Android.
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