Trees downed by record winds 

Mother nature is still the boss.

A winter storm that brought 50 centimetres of new snow to the alpine on the morning of Thursday, March 13, also brought a sudden wind storm with gusts in excess of 100 kilometres per hour that knocked down trees, cut power in Function Junction, and trapped hundreds of people on Whistler-Blackcomb lifts.

While 150 km/h winds are nothing new for the high alpine, Whistler Mountain weather and avalanche forecaster Anton Horvath has not seen winds of 130 km/h at the Roundhouse elevation in his 25 years of experience.

"We can get some pretty good winds around the alpine, but even they generally build more gradually, and we have more advance notice," he said.

The snow resulted from a low pressure front off the Gulf of Alaska, mixing with some moist air from the south. When the warm front hit the cold front, the result was more violent, and the air mass more unstable than could be predicted.

Nobody was injured in the storm, and the hundreds of people that were slowly taken off the lifts were brought to the Roundhouse and Rendezvous where they were given drinks and food. The storm lasted about five hours.

Later that afternoon, the people left on the mountains were taken down by people-movers and sleds, or skied out with ski patrol in groups.

People were warned to stay away from the windows after a pane of glass shattered in a mountain-top shop, and skiers were asked to stay away from the tree line on the way down.

Arthur DeJong, the manager of mountain planning and environmental resources for Whistler-Blackcomb says he wasn’t on the mountain when the wind hit, but that he had never seen the trees bend as much in the valley.

In total, he estimates that between 75 and 100 mature trees were knocked down on the mountains, although more are being discovered.

"When a wind this big hits there’s not much we can do, although we do look at what we can do in terms of replanting, or stop trail development in certain areas," he says.

The power in Function Junction and along Alta Lake Road was knocked out for more than three hours because of the storm, and trees were knocked down in and around town.

"According to the Environment Canada weather stations, the wind went from about zero to 40 kilometres per hour, but it must have gusted much harder than that in localized areas around Whistler," says Paul Beswetherick, horticulturist and arborist for the RMOW.

According to Beswetherick, at last count there were seven trees down in the Creekside area, including three that landed on houses. One dead hemlock that he feels should have been removed struck a truck before falling onto the front of a house and causing minor damage. A deck was taken out, and another tree was found leaning against the side of a property.

There were another five trees downed on golf courses, as well as the entrance to the Lost lake area. Others were reported on Blackcomb Way and in the Benchlands. His estimate is about 30 trees in total, although the number keeps growing.

According to Beswetherick, arborists can often spot injured or diseased trees, which are most likely to fall in during wind events.

"There are ways to identify trees that are at risk, and most have some indication of a failure point," he says.

"Trees never heal, they only cover over their injuries. If you have any concerns, then contact a licensed arborist and have your trees inspected."

According to Beswetherick, Whistler typically experiences two or three wind events a year, and we never get much notice.

"Although this was an unusual storm, there’s no reason not to expect something like this to happen again. There’s always some risk, but you can reduce the chances of something bad happening by having your trees checked over."

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