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Santa Ana winds: Gusts top 150 mph at Mammoth Mountain

December 2, 2011 |  1:36 pm

The blistering winds that ripped through Southern California on Wednesday reached speeds so high that they could not be accurately recorded at the peak of Mammoth Mountain, according to a park spokesperson who estimated winds gusted up to 170 miles per hour.   

Mammoth Mountain's patrol website reported constant gusts clocked at 150 miles per hour several times throughout Wednesday. Tracking equipment was set to max out at that speed, so winds at the 11,000-foot peak were almost certainly higher, said Ski Patrol director Bobby Hoyt.

"I had never seen these kind of winds here from that direction, with that intensity, for that period of time," said Hoyt, who has worked at the mountain for 32 years. "It was very, very unusual." 

PHOTOS: Santa Ana winds | Submit your photos

But National Weather Service meteorologist Dawn Fishler said that high wind speeds were not all that uncommon for the mountain ridge. Like Hoyt, she noted that the difference was the direction the winds came from.

"What was really uncommon about this event was that they were from the east, more than west or southwest," said Fishler, who works out of the Reno office. "It's not so uncommon to have these wind speeds at this elevation. We're expecting winds between 120 and 160 miles per hour this winter."

Winds between 136 and 165 miles per hour project as a moderate "3" on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, which measures tornado strength with a number from zero to six.

Further south at the main lodge, gusts reached a modest 30 to 40 miles per hours, said Mammoth Mountain snow reporter Phil Schaefer. Nonetheless, he said only two of seven lifts were operational Thursday. All but one were running Friday.  

"The people who were here skied anyway," Schaefer said. "There were pretty consistent crowds."

The winds were fast enough however to snap 300 to 400 trees in the Mammoth Lakes Basin, according to a release from the U.S. Forest Service. Hoyt said that the basin is "way out of the ski area" and officials are assessing fallen trees that have toppled closer to the resort.


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-- Matt Stevens

Photo: Winds at the peak of Mammoth Mountain are estimated to have gusted up to 170 mph on Wednesday. Credit: Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times