High winds damage at least 14 trees at Point Defiance Park

Staff writerApril 18, 2014 

For two minutes, the winds howled and the rain went sideways.

That’s all it took Thursday for a passing thunderstorm to uproot and splinter 14 large trees in Tacoma’s Point Defiance Park.

“I’ve never experienced anything like it,” said Bliss Moore, who lives across the street from the park.

Metro Parks crews spent Friday morning assessing the damage, which was mostly centered in the park bowl, Pacific Northwest Native Garden and Salmon Beach.

The largest victim was an 80-foot Norway Spruce near the pond at the front entrance. Six trees, including firs and a poplar, fell or were damaged in the Native Garden.

That area will remain closed to the public until cleanup work is complete.

“We think there are some potential safety risks that need to be addressed before we reopen it,” Metro Parks spokeswoman Nancy Johnson said.

Park officials said it was a tornado that swept through the area about 7 p.m. Thursday and took out their trees. Witnesses described seeing a funnel cloud move off the water.

Experts with the National Weather Service in Seattle revised their assessment slightly Friday afternoon, saying southwest wind gusts of 60 to 70 miles per hour felled the trees.

Analysts aren't ready to blame the incident on a tornado or twister. Meteorologist Johnny Burg said that assessment could change with new information, but so far, analysts haven't seen enough proof or confirmation from witnesses.

"It looks like kind of a straight line southwest wind gust that caused this," Burg said. "The trees that were down were sporadic in nature. You see four or five and then one down, then the same thing a distance away. Trees falling in a northeasterly direction. It's consistent with wind gusts."

Moore had just returned home from dinner when the winds picked up. They bent a metal extension on his chimney and sent two big trash cans barreling down the street.

“I was really getting nervous looking out the window,” Moore said.

After the storm died down, he walked across the street to the park to inspect the damage and said he was stunned to see such towering trees destroyed.

Metro Parks said there is no estimate for damage for the lost trees and they can’t replant until fall.

In the meantime, crews with chainsaws began cutting up some of the fallen trees Friday and picking up branches. A contractor was hired to come out Monday and take care of a tall tree that uprooted but did not completely fall to the ground in the Native Garden.

It could take up to two weeks to clean up after the storm, Johnson said.

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