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Santa Ana winds: How the West was hit by hurricane-speed winds

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Winds this strong can topple trees onto power lines, knocking out power. Already today, 34,000 are without power in Northern California, 25,000 have lost power in Southern California and Los Angeles Airport lost power for an hour last night.

In Southern California, 80 mph (129 kph) wind gusts have been reported in higher mountain passes. Near Los Angeles, wind gusts of up to 40 mph have been reported and gusts of up to 80 mph have been seen in some canyons. Winds were so strong Thursday that Pasadena, Calif., firefighters were responding to calls of downed trees every 12 seconds, according to the Weather Channel.

Outside SoCal

The strong winds aren't just a Southern California thing. Near Sacramento, wind gusts of up to 40 mph were reported. At higher elevations, gusts topped 100 mph (161 kph), said Bill Rasch, an NWS meteorologist in Sacramento. Rasch told OurAmazingPlanet that winds this strong aren't unusual for the area, but said "in general it's a pretty strong storm."

The winds aren't even confined to California. In Las Vegas, winds are gusting at 29 mph (47 kph). At Mammoth Mountain's summit, the winds topped 150 mph, equivalent to a Category 3 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale.

The severe winds are even dangerous in Utah. Here, they are called simply "canyon winds," but the same phenomenon is at play. A high-pressure gradient east of the Rocky Mountains causes the winds to speed up going down the mountains. 

"By the time they hit the valley they're at an incredible speed," said Nanette Hosenfeld, a meteorologist with the NWS in Salt Lake City.

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