October 11, 2020

In Rose Park, impact of wind storm went beyond downed trees

In Rose Park, impact of wind storm went beyond downed trees
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By Katherine Torres

Intense winds on September 8 caused massive destruction throughout Utah. According to the National Weather Service, wind gusts peaked at 89 miles per hour in Salt Lake City, and gusts in excess of 90 miles per hour were recorded in other parts of the state. The wind caused overturned semi trucks, property damage, school closures, and power outages that affected over 150,000 Utah residents. Thousands of trees were toppled.

In Rose Park, a neighborhood known for its tree-lined streets, a significant number of mature trees were downed. In some cases, trees fell on power lines and parked cars, damaged houses, and blocked traffic on neighborhood streets. Countless photos of mangled branches, exposed tree roots, and stumps were shared by Rose Park residents on social platforms.

State and local leaders, including Governor Gary Herbert and Mayor Erin Mendenhall, toured Rose Park streets to assess the damage on September 9. At a press conference conducted by state and local leaders that same day, Mayor Mendenhall reiterated her commitment to plant 1,000 new trees in Salt Lake City’s west-side neighborhoods, a commitment she made back in 2019 when she was a mayoral candidate.

“This storm sets us back a little bit, but I know that our commitment to planting trees and growing our urban forest is strong,” Mendenhall said at the press conference.

While it seemed like all of Rose Park was primarily concerned with the loss of trees that had been part of the neighborhood for multiple generations, many residents were also faced with personal property damage, prolonged power outages, and loss of perishable foods.

One Rose Park resident, Chris Cook, was without power for 13 days due to damage sustained to his power line and electric meter by fallen trees. “You could tell that there was damage to the meter, but you couldn’t access it because there was so much tree in the way,” Cook said. “We couldn’t do anything until we could get the trees taken out.” 

In order to restore power to his house, Cook had to hire help to remove the trees that were blocking access to his meter. In addition, he had to replace his electric panel. Those costs were reimbursed by his insurance company, but if they hadn’t been covered, his out-of-pocket costs would have totaled nearly $5,000.

The 13-day power outage that Cook experienced was not widespread, but most Rose Park residents experienced power loss that lasted more than 24 hours, and many had to wait three to five days for their power to be restored.

Spencer Hall, a spokesman for Rocky Mountain Power, attributed the range of power outage durations to Rocky Mountain Power’s prioritization strategy.

“What we tried to do was prioritize the repairs that could bring the most people on at once,” Hall said. “As days went on, after we had repaired the main transmission and distribution systems, then it became kind of onesie-twosie.” 

Hall noted the frustration some Rocky Mountain Power customers experienced if they were among the last few individuals in their neighborhood to have power restored. “Nobody likes to be the last one, but in every neighborhood, there was somebody who was last, and I think that was frustrating for some folks,” he said.

During the 13 days that Cook’s power was out, he and his family were able to stay at a family member’s house in Farmington, but they still experienced some inconveniences, including a longer commute to and from work and increased costs from dining out more frequently.

“We lost our food,” Cook said.

Celina Milner, a Senior Advisor in the Salt Lake City Mayor’s Office and a Rose Park resident, centered her response to the wind storm on helping residents overcome food loss. Working to build an emergency food safety net is a project Milner has been involved with over the last several months through her service on the Multicultural Subcommittee of Utah's COVID-19 Task Force.

“With COVID, the earthquake, racial unrest, and now an inland hurricane, you can imagine that the food safety net is stretched very, very thin,” Milner said. “We are in a community that is just getting on our feet... things were just looking up, and wouldn’t you know it, here came, of all things, an inland hurricane in the state of Utah.”

Milner said that after the wind storm, many constituents had reached out about available food resources. When those constituents were pointed toward local food pantries, they were unable to access those facilities. “The response was ‘I can’t get out of my driveway. There’s a tree on my car,’” she said.

To provide access to food, Salt Lake City partnered with the Utah Food Bank to host a mobile food distribution event on September 23 at the Rose Park LDS Stake Center.

While the city and the state worked in an official capacity to help Rose Park residents, community organizations like the Rose Park Brown Berets provided additional ad hoc support. In the days after the wind storm, the Brown Berets organized groups of 5 to 20 individuals to cut down fallen trees in the neighborhood.

“We didn't know how long it would take for the city to cut down their trees,” said a spokesperson for the Brown Berets. “Instead of relying on it, we relied on ourselves.”

Relying on oneself and on one’s community is a recommendation that the Brown Berets have for Rose Park residents. “[An] important thing is for our community to be self-sustainable and for the community to take care of each other, because the system we live under was not made for us and continues to fail us,” the spokesperson said.

Although neighbors helped one another, weeks after the storm, debris was still being cleaned up by city crews, and Gov. Herbert called in the Utah National Guard to assist.
The process of restoring the urban canopy will take decades. It starts by planting and tending new trees, and the city is asking for help. Salt Lake City is calling on all community councils within the city to establish Urban Forestry Subcommittees to help ensure that newly planted trees in their community will receive the care and water they need.

TreeUtah and Salt Lake City have partnered up to replenish the city’s urban forest. There are two ways residents can help. The city is asking residents for donations to match a $10,000 donation from Rocky Mountain Power. Donate at www.retreeslc.com. TreeUtah is recruiting volunteers to help plant trees. Sign up at