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Cold front brings powerful winds, snow through western states

Waves hit the Redondo Beach Pier in Redondo Beach, Calif., Monday, April 8, 2013. Strong winds have begun raking parts of Southern California. The National Weather Service says the gusty northwest-to-north winds will become widespread across the region Monday and continue into the night.(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

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By The Associated Press
Monday, April 8, 2013, 9:27 p.m.

LOS ANGELES — Powerful wind raked much of California on Monday, toppling trees, causing scattered power outages, whipping up blinding dust storms, and sending waves crashing ashore as a vigorous spring weather system swept through the state on its way across the West.

Rising wind was reported in Arizona, where 34 miles of Interstate 40 near Winslow had to be closed to traffic, and in Colorado, where the blustery system was expected to bring up to 2 feet of snow. New Mexico was expected to start feeling the impact late Monday.

Snow is starting to fall in parts of central and western Wyoming, and forecasts for snow and high wind have parts of Colorado bracing for snowdrifts of 2 to 3 feet through on Tuesday night.

The National Weather Service says the spring storm could bring 6 to 11 inches of snow through Tuesday in some areas, including Denver International Airport.

The temperature at the airport was 70 degrees at midday before the storm arrived.

Northern California was first to feel the lashing blasts, which spread to the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys.

At least a dozen trees came down in San Francisco, police officer John Tozzini told KGO-TV, which reported that more than 20,000 utility customers lost power in the region. A swath of electrical outages occurred across the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, the Sacramento Bee reported.

The northwest-to-north winds were punctuated with gusts topping 80 mph at some Southern California points.

The blustery system was being fueled by a cold front.

“It's just a cold, really strong upper low,” said Carol Smith, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard, Calif.

Whitecaps flecked the Pacific Ocean along the California coast, where gale warnings and small craft advisories were posted. Recreational boaters were warned to stay in port. Wind-driven swells slapped over the tops of breakwaters and turned waves into a churning froth under piers at points such as Redondo Beach and Manhattan Beach on the Los Angeles County coast.

Blowing dust forced the California Highway Patrol to close State Route 14 in the high desert Antelope Valley north of Los Angeles because of low visibility. Officer Michael Farrell said minor accidents occurred because motorists stopped on the road and were hit from behind by other cars. No major injuries were immediately reported.

Areas of the north San Fernando Valley experienced electrical outages as tree branches tangled with power lines in at least two areas, said Michelle Vargas, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. About 740 homes in Sylmar and 15 homes in Pacoima were affected.

About 2,700 homes were without power in the afternoon because of at least five downed utility poles in the remote desert area of Borrego Springs in San Diego County, according to Amber Albrecht, spokeswoman for San Diego Gas and Electric.

Air quality alerts were issued for northern Santa Barbara County and adjacent southern San Luis Obispo County because of blowing dust and sand. In Phoenix, blowing dust obscured the mountains surrounding the city.

The huge rush of air had an upside. California's main power grid manager, the Independent System Operator, reported that turbines spinning within the ISO grid produced a record of 4,196 megawatts at 6:44 p.m. Sunday. The previous record was 3,944 megawatts on March 3.

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