Thousands Lose Power as 50-M.P.H. Winds Batter County

Times Staff Writer

A Canadian cold front packing heavy winds roared through Orange County on Saturday, downing trees and power lines, threatening crops and leaving residential areas from Irvine south to Mission Viejo without electricity.

The hardest-hit area appeared to be southern Orange County, where the Sheriff's Department said there were widespread reports of power outages as the winds gusted up to 50 m.p.h. Saturday night.

Most of the trouble was in the El Toro, Mission Viejo, Trabuco Canyon, Modjeska and Silverado Canyon areas, although isolated parts of Tustin, Irvine, Santa Ana and Costa Mesa also were left briefly without electricity.

"We've got six deputies on the desk tonight, and they're all on the telephone taking calls" about the power being out, said Lt. Larry Abbott, a Sheriff's Department watch commander. "We're going like crazy."

The high winds may also have caused disruptions in long distance telephone service. Linda Bonniksen, a Pacific Bell spokeswoman, said residents from the San Fernando Valley south to San Diego reported trouble making long distance calls Saturday night.

"It's apparently a problem with the fiber optics system of MCI, so it is their customers that are having the problems," she said. "We haven't had any local service problems, although some of our stations are running on backup power because they have lost regular service."

Most of the power outages came as the winds picked up around 6 p.m.

Roger Faubel, a spokesman for Southern California Edison Co., reported five circuit failures caused by trees and limbs falling on power lines. The most serious occurred at 6:10 p.m. when about 500 residents of Cook's Corner, Santiago Canyon and Modjeska Canyon lost power. Power was restored 2 1/2 hours later.

Similar problems occurred in Irvine, although commercial customers were mostly affected.

A fallen tree limb knocked out power for an hour to about 2,000 customers along El Toro Road and in the Lake Forest and Muirlands areas. Twenty-five households were without power for 45 minutes when a power line came down in gusty winds in Laguna Hills.

In addition, Faubel said power was off at one section of the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station for 35 minutes when a line went down.

The weather service said the strong winds should blow out of the county by early Sunday, to be followed by temperatures below freezing.

Temperatures in the mid- to high-20s were expected in some sheltered inland areas and valleys Sunday night and early Monday. Temperatures were expected to be in the low 30s along the coast and in other areas.

Forecasters said the sudden cold spell could trigger more power outages in some areas and damage crops.

Barry Satchwell, a spokesman for the National Weather Service, said that when the winds die in the early morning, temperatures can get "real cold, real fast." Temperatures in the upper 20s could affect lettuce, citrus, avocados, strawberries and other crops, he said.

The weather service issued freeze warnings for all Southern California agricultural areas Saturday night and said a small craft advisory was in effect from Point Conception to Dana Point because of local gusts of 30 to 40 knots and choppy seas. Gale warnings were issued in the outer water areas from Point Conception to Santa Rosa Island with gusts reaching 45 knots Saturday night.

On a positive note, the winds pushed away much of the heavy coastal fog that had blanketed John Wayne Airport and Los Angeles International Airport on Friday, bringing bright blue skies across Orange County on Saturday.

But for the next few days, forecasters said it would be unseasonably chilly, particularly in the early morning hours.

"The reason it's so cold is that the air we normally get across Orange County comes off the ocean," said Dan Bowman, a meteorologist at WeatherData, which provides forecasts for The Times. "But right now the winds are straight out of the north. That brings air down from Canada that is real dry and cool."

The strong winds that have made driving and boating hazardous should die by late Sunday, Bowman said, ushering in even cooler temperatures.

"The winds keep the temperature a little warmer," he said. "As the winds subside, it will get colder and colder. The cold air will be around through the first part of the week, especially during the night," he said.

Highs on Sunday in Orange County were expected in the mid 50s to low 60s. Monday was expected to be a bit warmer. The high temperature Saturday was 67, just one degree below normal for the day. The low Saturday night was expected to be 45, much warmer than the all-time low of 34 set in 1978.

"Sunday night will be the coldest night," Bowman said. "You'll be seeing temperatures in the upper 20s to upper 30s with the sheltered regions and valleys the coldest. That's going to cause a lot of problems for people who have orchards. People who have plants sitting around outside should bring them in to protect them from frost."

The gusting winds apparently caused few problems across Orange County on Saturday, although the California Highway Patrol said traffic slowed on many freeways because of the hazardous driving conditions.

Elsewhere in the Southland, about 7,500 customers in Malibu and the Simi Valley were without power at one time or another from Friday night through Saturday because of the winds, said Charles Peal, a spokesman for Southern California Edison.

High winds also caused a rock slide near a Malibu Canyon Road tunnel, but the key link between the San Fernando Valley and the coast stayed open, a county roads spokesman said.

A weather service spokesman said people traveling in the Southern California mountains as well as in the Sierras should use extra caution while driving, especially in vehicles such as campers. But little, if any, snow was expected with the low temperatures.

Times Staff Writer Ronald L. Soble contributed to this story.

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