Howling spring winds Monday temporarily knocked out power in some parts of the Flagstaff region and closed Interstate 40.
A 17-mile stretch of freeway between Meteor Crater and Winslow, where winds up to 60 mph whipped up blinding dust storms, was closed for about five hours, backing up traffic for about 4 miles.
The Arizona Department of Transportation and highway patrol initially slowed and escorted traffic through a four-mile segment near the State Route 99 (Leupp) junction, but closed a longer stretch of the freeway at about 3 p.m. when visibility went from bad to worse.
ADOT spokesman Rod Wigman said the dust-clogged escort area grew bit by bit, until a multi-vehicle collision convinced authorities it was time to halt travel in both directions between approximately Meteor Crater and Winslow.
According to the Department of Public Safety, the six-vehicle wreck occurred on the westbound side near the Leupp turnoff. Five people were taken to the hospital in nearby Winslow with moderate injuries.
Travel along I-40 from Winslow to the New Mexico state line was also expected to be challenging, especially for high-profile vehicles. Walls of dust also reportedly formed along State Route 264 near Keams Canyon.
Other minor incidents on the roadways:
-- On eastbound I-40 inside Flagstaff, camper and box trailers being towed by a pick-up truck blew over. The truck stayed upright and there were no injuries.
-- On Highway 89 near the State Route 160 (Tuba City) junction, several barrels blew free of a truck and disabled a following semi truck.
-- Interstate 17 saw no issues, other than punches of wind for motorists coming out of sheltered stretches, Wigman said.
The wind also had an impact on people not on the road.
In Flagstaff, roughly 4,500 residents were briefly without power on Monday afternoon when the strong winds knocked down several trees that became snared in power lines, said APS spokeswoman Cindy Mays.
More than 3,500 residents in west Flagstaff were the first to lose power shortly before noon. Power was restored 35 minutes later, Mays said. Another 1,000 eastside residents lost power for close to an hour. Residents of Mountainaire and Kachina Village also reported brief outages.
COLD FRONT TO BLAME
A cold front moving across northern Arizona was behind the rollicking weather.
Ben Peterson, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service station in Bellemont, said the area was getting hit with gusts of up to 60 mph, with Tuba City and Two Guns the hardest hit. Forecasters expected sustained winds out of the southwest between 30 and 39 mph.
It is a typical storm system for this time of year -- lots of wind and lots of temperature changes, Peterson said. As storms track farther north, this area ends up getting the wind.
Today and Wednesday are again expected to be breezy and cool, but not as severe as Monday, with winds from about 13-17 mph and gusts as high as about 30 mph, according to the NWS.