This semi truck was blown over by high winds on Interstate 8 at Japatul Road. Courtesy OnScene.TV

Strong Santa Ana winds kicked up in the San Diego area Tuesday, downing trees and power lines while increasing wildfire hazards across the rain-starved region.

In the early afternoon, the National Weather Service reported local gusts as high as 77 mph in the East County — at Big Black Mountain and Hellhole Canyon — and 46 mph closer to the coast, at the U.S.-Mexico border in Otay Mesa.

The blustery conditions, which were expected to last through Wednesday, sent trees and utility standards toppling throughout Ramona, according to the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department. One of the downed power poles forced a closure of Hanson Lane between Barnett and San Vicente roads, the agency reported.

Other wind-related problems at midday included an overturned big rig on Interstate 8, near state Route 79 in Descanso, and a large fallen tree limb blocking an eastbound lane on state Route 94, in the area of Lucky Six Truck Trail in Dulzura, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Due to the dry, windy conditions and arid vegetation across the county, the weather service warned of “elevated” to “critical” fire danger. The agency advised that the winds were “not the typical canyon-and-passes Santa Ana winds” but “widespread” ones.

A high-wind advisory was in effect until further notice for Interstate 8, from Alpine to the Imperial County line. Drivers of large, “high profile” vehicles, such as semi-trailers and RVs, were advised to avoid the stretch during the duration of the gusty conditions.

Officials with San Diego Gas & Electric said they were closely monitoring the situation and preparing for an emergency response in case their power grid wound up impacted. The utility urged locals to help prevent outages by removing dead trees and overhanging branches near structures, and securing patio furniture, loose yard objects, roofs, balconies, tarps, pool covers and Mylar balloons, which can cause blackouts if they come into contact with electrical-transmission equipment.

With a chance of rain and snow also forecast overnight for the mountains and deserts, motorists were “urged to drive cautiously, as a leading cause of power outages during wet weather is drivers hitting power poles or transformers,” according to an SDG&E statement.

High-elevation locales in the East County were expected to receive snow, possibly several inches, from Tuesday evening into early Wednesday, meteorologists advised.

A flash-flood watch was scheduled to be in effect for local desert communities from late Tuesday evening until Wednesday night.

The weather service also predicted rip currents and other ocean hazards, including dangerous boating conditions for the inner and outer coastal waters, through Wednesday.

— City News Service

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.