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East Valley cleans up after monster storm

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Posted: Monday, September 1, 2008 11:00 pm

Mother Nature must not be a Sun Devils fan.

Monsoon storm winds of up to 100 mph late Thursday seriously damaged Arizona State University's recently opened $8.4 million, 103,000-square-foot "bubble" football practice structure near Rural Road and University Drive in Tempe.

http://www.eastvalleytribune.com/page/slideshowfull/1342">SLIDESHOW: Strong storm hits East Valley

http://link.brightcove.com/services/link/bcpid1155316042/bclid1155075693/bctid1761951246"> VIDEO: Storm takes down ASU practice bubble

http://www.fcd.maricopa.gov/RainfallPHX.htm">View Valley rainfall totals

http://www.eastvalleytribune.com/share/gallery/?plckGalleryID=e6923179-0695-4e90-a93f-4bc828c2c3a6"> Send us and view readers'  weather photos

http://www.eastvalleytribune.com/story/124387">Storm damages ASU practice bubble roof

http://www.eastvalleytribune.com/story/124388">Travelers stranded overnight at Sky Harbor

Saturday's Sun Devils' season opener against Northern Arizona University at 7:15 p.m. at Sun Devil Stadium isn't affected by the damage.

Winds measured at 85 mph and shown on radar up to 100 mph wreaked havoc on the Sun Devils bubble. The concrete foundation and the playing surface weren't damaged.

While a spokeswoman from the National Weather Service in Phoenix said rainfall at ASU measured 1.46 inches, winds were the culprit. The bubble structure, which had a fabric roof, is unusable for the rest of the season. ASU is in the process of assessing the damage, school spokesman Mark Brand said. Initial estimates to repair the roof are $900,000 to $1 million. The Sun Devils practiced at the facility eight times, including Thursday afternoon.


The storm also ripped an 80-foot awning from the classroom building at Tempe Salvation Army, 40 E. University Drive, and took part of the roof with it, said Capt. Keith Bottjen. All seven classrooms were subsequently drenched by the rain that poured in.

While the structures were insured, he said the building could be declared a total loss. Downed trees from neighboring property also littered the campus.

National Weather Service meteorologist Paul Iniguez said with 5.66 inches of rain from June 15 through Thursday, it's the sixth wettest monsoon season on record since 1896. The average rainfall between those dates during the 112 years on record is 1.93 inches.

A Salt River Project spokeswoman said the company had about 1,200 customers without power early Friday afternoon and that all power should be restored by early evening. She said approximately 35,000 customers didn't have power at the height of the storm.

Arizona Public Service Co. estimated 80,000 customers had no electricity Thursday night, with about 20,000 without power Friday afternoon. Because of widespread damage, APS said it would likely will take until Friday night for all power to be restored.

Lightning put on a good show throughout most of the East Valley. Jim Homan, who lives in the 8100 block of East Southern Avenue in Mesa, said he has never seen anything like it during his 55 years in the Valley.

"I saw two lightning bolts hit," the 80-year-old Homan said. "It was like a bomb went off. It kind of looked like the rocket fireworks they shoot off at ballgames."

Andrew W. Ellis, an assistant professor of geology at ASU, said while the school doesn't measure lightning strikes, the jolts were a hot topic of discussion Friday.

"All the kids in my meteorology class this morning wanted to talk about was the lightning show," Ellis said. "It was impressive."

Ellis said Mesa Weather - http://www.mesawx.com/southwes1.htm">www.mesawx.com/southwes1.htm  - measured a peak lightning strike number of 1,130 at 9:28 p.m. Thursday.

At Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, about 500 passengers spent the night as power outages and storm damage to runways halted travel. The airport was closed for about an hour Thursday night at the height of the storm. The weather service reported up to 0.94 inch of rain at the airport.

Terminals, runways and some aircraft were damaged, according to spokeswoman Deborah Ostricher. There were minimal delays, she said. The west cargo area was hit hard, as winds at Sky Harbor reached 80 mph to 100 mph.

"I'm looking at the FedEx building and planes, and that's looking intact, but we have another cargo area for shipping companies that I know has had damage," she said.

Ostricher said airport officials offered extra assistance to passengers.

"We did have people in the terminals overnight due to the delays and we made them as comfortable as possible," she said. "We had food services open, provided them with water and blankets as needed and had extra staff on to support their needs."

Street sweepers from Phoenix and Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport were brought in to help with the cleanup.

Ostricher suggested passengers call their airlines for updated flight information.

In Scottsdale, all unbridged crossings of Indian Bend Wash were still closed Friday morning due to flooding. Signalized intersections at Scottsdale Road at Dana Suites, which is the first signal north of Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard, North 82nd Street and Cactus Road, and North 90th Street and Mountain View Road were in flash mode or had no power, and were treated as four-way stops.

The heaviest rainfall was 1.69 inches at First and Jefferson streets in downtown Phoenix, according to the weather service. Other totals: 1.42 inches at the Salt River and Priest Drive in Tempe, 0.98 inch at Broadway and Dobson roads in Mesa, and 1.14 inches at a Guadalupe flood retention sensor.

Weather service meteorologist Valerie Meyers said there's a 30 percent chance of rain and thunderstorms Friday night. The weekend could also see precipitation, she added.

"Mother Nature is getting into an uproar for the next week," Meyers said.

SRP spokeswoman Patricia Garcia-Likens said what happened to the utility's customers Thursday was unusual.

"This was a very unique storm in that we didn't have outages that were specific to one area," Garcia-Likens said. "They were spread across the Valley."

Live power cables downed by the storm trapped occupants for a time in a city bus at Fifth Street and Hardy Drive in Tempe, according to Tempe fire officials. No passengers were injured.

Lightning sparked a fire at a transformer near Germann and McQueen roads in Gilbert, according to Mesa fire officials. A house also was hit by lightning near Warner Road and Quinn Avenue in Gilbert, and in Ahwatukee Foothills, hail the size of pennies pelted homes and vehicles.

A microburst over the Chandler Airport produced a heavy downpour that left 0.51 inch of rain in a short time. There was no aircraft damage at the airport, although a hangar door had wind damage. Rainfall at Chandler Boulevard and Alma School Road reached 0.91 inch. Several roads in Gilbert were overflowing, according to Gilbert authorities.

- Tribune reporters Michelle Reese, Eddi Trevizio, Dan Zeiger, Lawn Griffiths and intern Daniel Newhauser contributed to this story.

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