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Wednesday, April 28, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Surprise storm delivers wild mix of rain, hail, wind

Seattle Times staff reporter

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A fast-moving freak storm that packed wind, rain, lightning — and even a tornado — pummeled the Puget Sound region late yesterday afternoon, knocking out power to more than 200,000 customers, shutting down roads and ferry runs and uprooting trees.

South Snohomish County caught the brunt of the storm, which also hit Seattle and much of King and Pierce counties. The Snohomish County Public Utility District alone was working to restore power to at least 150,000 customers last night. It was the district's largest power outage from a windstorm since 1993, said Mike Thorne, district spokesman.

By this morning, 25,000 customers were still without power.

Other utilities also reported outages.

Winds were estimated at 55 to 60 mph near Bothell, the National Weather Service reported.

Marysville Police Commander Robb Lamoureux described damage throughout his city.

"There's trees on houses. There's trees on trailers. There's trees on cars," he said.

Drastic changes in temperatures from Monday — when some areas posted record highs — created thunderclouds, the weather service reported. High winds that caused a tornado east of Sumas, near the Canadian border in Whatcom County, pushed the storm south through the Strait of Juan de Fuca, then into Snohomish and King counties. Forecasters didn't see it coming.

"The combination of the unstable air and the strong winds aloft allowed those winds to come to the surface," said Carl Cerniglia, a weather-service meteorologist.

By early evening it was over, and blue skies had crept back over the region. Cerniglia said mild weather would return today.

Winds knocked out a transmission line about 4 p.m. in Snohomish County. Thorne, the utility-district spokesman, said the 150,000 homes and businesses without power represented more than half of the utility's customers.

Another utility spokeswoman, Julee Cunningham, said the downed transmission line primarily affected residents in Granite Falls and Lake Stevens. She said crews were scrambling to bring two substations back online, as well as repairing the damaged line.

She said she didn't know when power would be restored.

"It takes a little while to assess where the damage is when the storm is going through," she said.

In Marysville, the wind blew off a portion of the swimming-pool roof at Marysville-Pilchuck High School, and the roofing shattered a car windshield. Swimming classes might be canceled today.

According to Snohomish County sheriff's spokeswoman Jan Jorgensen, officers reported that downed power lines and tree limbs blocked at least 25 roads.

A number of traffic accidents were reported.

In Lynnwood, afternoon rush-hour traffic came to a halt after trees fell onto Interstate 5 just south of 164th Street Southwest.

State Patrol Trooper Lance Ramsay said traffic was backed up for miles on Highway 2 from Monroe to Stevens Pass and on Highway 9 from Woodinville to Arlington during the afternoon commute.

Marysville police are investigating a weather-related accident that occurred when a motorist pulled in front of a semi-truck on State Avenue and 136th Street Northeast. The woman was flown to Harborview Medical Center with unknown injuries.

Seattle City Light spokeswoman Sharon Bennett said about 21,000 customers from Shoreline, Sand Point, View Ridge, East Queen Anne, North Ballard, and Capitol Hill lost power. Residents reported lightning striking homes in the Northgate area of Seattle and hail in several areas.

The storm also downed power lines and toppled trees across the Eastside.

When power went out on the University of Washington campus in Bothell, several people were temporarily trapped in elevators in various buildings, a police spokesman said.

In Kenmore, a transformer in the 14900 block of 84th Avenue Northeast ignited. In Issaquah, a large maple tree crashed onto a home on Mount Baker Street.

Firefighters were able to cut away some branches and patch up the hole with tarps.

"We got the interior protected as best we could, but they (the homeowners) will probably have to call a professional tree service to finish" the job, said Battalion Chief Jeff Moir.

Quarter-inch hail was reported in Bellevue and Fall City, weather-service meteorologist Jeff Rood said.

About 50,000 Puget Sound Energy customers — most of them in Kitsap and Jefferson counties — also lost power when trees fell on power lines, spokesman Tim Bader said. About 25,000 King County customers lost power, and there were scattered outages in Pierce, Kitsap, Skagit and Island counties.

Some commuters were left stranded when the Edmonds-Kingston and Port Townsend-Keystone ferry runs canceled service for two hours, state ferry spokeswoman Susan Harris-Huether said. The Mukilteo Ferry Dock also lost power.

Seattle Times staff writers Jennifer Sullivan, Christopher Schwarzen, Sara Jean Green, J.J. Jensen and Diane Brooks and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Nguyen Huy Vu: 206-464-3292 or vnguyen2@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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