The year’s first day of tripledigit heat took an afternoon turn for the windy, knocking out power to thousands of homes, complicating a Mesa firefighting effort and disrupting some residents’ best-laid plans.
The thermometer at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport topped out at 101 degrees Saturday, the earliest seasonal tripledigit debut since 2002. It came more than two weeks before the average arrival date of May 13.
And as if Mother Nature had decided that wasn’t enough weather-related excitement, a dust storm packing winds of up to 51 mph blew westward across the Valley starting at roughly 3 p.m., according to the National Weather Service.
The heavy winds snapped utility poles in some areas, including two at Gilbert Road and University Drive in Mesa.
About 10,000 Valley residents, half of those in the East Valley, were without power for most of the afternoon, said Salt River Project spokesman Scott Harelson.
By 6:30 p.m., about 1,000 homes still lacked power, Harelson said, adding that he expected all electricity to be restored by midnight Saturday.
It was the second temporary power outage in as many days.
About 600 homes and businesses were without power from midnight Friday to 9:30 a.m. Saturday after a car crashed into a transformer near Loop 101 and Broadway Road in Mesa.
In addition, afternoon lightning strikes gave firefighters trouble as they tried to contain a property fire under windy conditions near Crismon and McKellips roads in Mesa.
The fire damaged a fenced area containing communication equipment used by several Valley businesses, Mesa fire spokesman Mike Dunn said.
“We had to hold off a little bit,” Dunn said. “Most of the equipment was damaged.”
The sudden weather change stemmed from thunderstorms that originated in Pinal County but dissipated on their journey northwest, leaving behind little precipitation but plenty of gusty, dusty air.
“There was dust everywhere!” Chalon Petersen said late Saturday afternoon on her way to a wedding at the Mesa Arizona Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Petersen and her husband, Brent, said they didn’t expect the wedding to be affected by the bluster. But on the stone steps nearby, the bride struggled in the gusts to tame her hair and gown for pictures.
At the Arizona Historical Society Museum courtyard in Tempe’s Papago Park, the storm blew hundreds of glass champagne flutes from the tables of another wedding’s reception, as dust and rain coated the white plastic chairs and pre-set silverware.
To save the day, a handful of family friends sat out the wedding to clean up the reception mess.
“The most incredible thing was the flying shards,” said Ruth Lewis, a longtime friend of the bride.
That came after volunteers had practically gotten sunstrokes setting it all up, she said.
“It really did take us unaware,” she said.
In south Scottsdale, Prestige Car Wash had an unobstructed view of the dust storm. Every moment it approached was a moment closer to the day’s close of business. At 4 p.m., manager John Ramy pulled the plug.
“The day is shot,” a resigned Ramy sighed.
Just then, a customer from the early afternoon entered. Glenn Bunker wanted to know about the firm’s rain policy. Good for 48 hours, Ramy told him. Bunker had chosen a bad day to wash his Chevy Silverado. At 1:30 p.m., the weather looked fine. “It didn’t look like it was going to storm,” Bunker said.
Meteorologists were expecting a similar but slightly cooler day today, with a 20 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. They predict some blowing dust in the afternoon with temperatures reaching the mid-90s.