Gusts of wind hit Denver; windshields crack on planes

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Gusts of wind hit Denver; windshields crack on planes

Post#1 » Wed Feb 21, 2007 10:38 am

100 mph winds cracking windshields??? Don't planes fly a little faster than that?



Gusts of wind hit Denver; windshields crack on planes

By CHASE SQUIRES | Associated Press
February 17, 2007

(AP) - Winds gusting to 100 mph slashed through foothills canyons in Colorado and across the high plains of Wyoming on Friday, prompting travel warnings and cracking windshields on at least nine airplanes at Denver International Airport.

SkyWest Airlines, a regional carrier for United Airlines, reported 14 cracked windshields on nine aircraft, while Frontier Airlines reported cracked windshields on four planes.

Eight of the windshields on SkyWest's Embraer EMB120 Brasilia and Bombardier Canadair Regional Jet planes cracked while either landing or taking off between 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. Friday as gusts of up to 50 mph were hitting the airport, airline spokeswoman Marissa Snow said. The windshield on the other plane cracked while it was airborne.

"Only the outermost layer was affected," Snow said, adding they're investigating why the windshields cracked with the winds.

Two of Frontier's Airbus planes were in the air when their windshields cracked, while two cracked while at the gate. Frontier spokesman Joe Hodas said it was unclear whether the high winds were to blame.

"It's not exactly unusual weather for Denver," Hodas said. "We don't know what it is... It's kind of a mystery at this point."

In all instances, the planes returned to the airport and/or made it to the gate safely. No injuries were reported.

Spokesman Steve Snyder said windshields cracked on several different makes and models of airplanes from several airlines, though he did not immediately know which and how many. None of the pilots reported flying debris, Snyder said.

"Everybody is fairly baffled by it," Snyder said.

At least 55 flights were canceled by the winds.

A gust of 101 mph was recorded south of Boulder, Colo., about 30 miles northwest of Denver at about 2:30 a.m., and portions of at least five major highways were closed.

"It's like a river running through the mountains. It moves faster in the narrow areas," National Weather Service technician Carl Burroughs said. "The wind does the same thing through the canyons here."

In southern Wyoming, parts of Interstate 80 were closed between Cheyenne and Laramie because of windblown snow driven by gusts over 50 mph and icy patches.

Just before I-80 was closed in the morning, the driver and a passenger in a tractor-trailer were killed in a crash at Laramie, according to Wyoming Highway Patrol Lt. Troy McLees.

Later in the day, five tractor-trailers crashed into one another just west of Laramie. McLees said at least one person was taken to a hospital from that crash.

In Colorado, high wind advisories were issued for hundreds of miles of highways. Two short stretches of Interstate 70 in the mountains west of Denver had to close because of high winds and blowing snow, and a 60-mile stretch between east Vail and west of Evergreen was temporarily closed. U.S. 6 over Loveland Pass and U.S. 40 over Berthoud Pass and between Kremmling and Steamboat Springs were closed because of avalanche danger, and U.S. 285 was closed over Kenosha Pass for a time.

The American Red Cross Mile High Chapter set up shelters in Granby, Fraser and Silverthorne for stranded travelers.

At the Loveland ski area, gusting winds and low visibility shut down not only I-70 but also all but two of the area's nine lifts. Marketing director John Sellers said skiers were being allowed to get on I-70 east to head home, but conditions were spotty and the Colorado Department of Transportation could block access at any time. The mountain has a lodge, but no rooms for overnight guests.

"I guess if it comes to the worst and people had to stay here overnight, we do have some bunks and some blankets and people could sleep on the floor," he said. "We'd come up with something."

Fresh snow fell throughout the day, and the prospect of calmer winds Saturday had Sellers predicting excellent conditions for President's Day weekend.

The Winter Park ski area shut down around noon Friday. Resort spokesman Matt Sugar said high winds toppled trees and created unsafe conditions for skiers.

A Red Cross shelter accommodated day visitors trapped when CDOT closed Berthoud Pass, and the Ski Train, which runs between Winter Park and Denver, loaded more than 200 children stranded at the resort when their buses couldn't get over the pass.

"We are just so grateful to the Ski Train for really helping us out with this," Sugar said. The resort and train officials made sure the children had transportation home from Denver's Union Station, he said.

By midday, high winds had moved into the Eastern Plains, with gusts of 48 mph reported in Greeley and 46 mph in Limon, 80 miles southeast of Denver.

It was even too windy for kite flying, said Justin Barrett, a kite enthusiast who works at Boulder's Into the Wind kite shop.

"Anything over 30 mph is going to be too much for most any kite," he said. "You end up stretching the sail on a kite, and then it won't fly right."

Barrett said he was testing out a heavy-duty kite in some 35 mph gusts last fall near Boulder when he found himself at the mercy of the wind.

"A gust came along and lifted me pretty high. I got about 15 feet off the ground," he said. "It was pretty scary. We packed up and got out of there."

He had no plans to test Friday's wind.

Burroughs said the position of the high-altitude jet stream combined with a high pressure system spilling into a low-pressure area was producing the strong winds.

Such blasts are not unusual for this time of year along the Rockies.

Colorado's highest recorded wind gust came in at 201 mph atop 14,259-foot Longs Peak in 1981 Rocky Mountain National Park. In 1971, the city of Boulder recorded a wind gust at 147 mph.

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