Power Outages and Fallen Trees: High Speed Winds Impact Pinewood Campuses


Sophia Cheng

A fallen tree crushes a Middle Campus fence, finding its way into a neighboring home’s yard. The only damage was done to the fence.

Samantha Hsiung and Karina Aronson

Bleachers flopping over on football fields. Trash cans flying into nearby buildings. Neighborhood fences knocking each other down like dominoes. 

Pinewood’s Upper Campus is closed for a second day in a row after harsh winds on Tuesday afternoon reached up to 49 mph and toppled a Middle Campus tree. Downed power lines left all Pinewood campuses without electricity or WiFi. The fallen tree did not cause injury; however, a nearby fence was damaged.  

The power outages occurred early afternoon while students were still on campus, causing the administration to cancel school Wednesday and Thursday. According to reports from Pacific Gas & Electrical Company, power will not be restored to the Los Altos Hills area until Thursday at 10 p.m. 

“It is so frustrating to be without power for multiple days,” Head of Upper Campus Gabriel Lemmon said. “My heart goes out to all of the families who are affected, and here at school, we are completely out of commission.” 

Middle and Lower Campus students returned to school Thursday, and the power was restored at both campuses. 

During the winds Tuesday afternoon, Upper Campus staff focused on minimizing the chance of student injury by redirecting student traffic to covered hallways during passing periods; encouraging students to eat lunch indoors; and moving objects that could potentially become airborne, like umbrellas. Middle Campus relocated lunch, recess, Pi Day celebrations, and physical education classes indoors, and classes that took place in classrooms near trees were migrated to other rooms after the tree fell on campus. Communication between staff and faculty took place via walkie-talkies, according to Head of Middle Campus Brynn Hambly. 

“Students enjoyed a tech-free afternoon,” Hambly said in an email to The Perennial.  

While power outages usually lead to cancellation of school, Lemmon said students were not asked to leave campus on Tuesday after the Wi-Fi went out. 

“We determined that it was the safest and best [way] for learning to continue with normal classes the rest of the day, even without electricity,” Lemmon said. 

The high winds have proved inconvenient for Upper Campus teachers, many whose homes have been mired with power outages — causing them to be unable to post lessons or continue with asynchronous work during Wednesday’s school closure. With the end of the school year quickly approaching, the winds also serve as obstacles for teachers who are scrambling to finish their curricula.

“I’m sure that many students and teachers appreciated a day free of classes to get caught up on work, but I’m a bit concerned about getting behind with my curriculum,” literature teacher and English department head Patricia Welze said.

Welze is especially frustrated about the timing of the winds, as Celebration of Literature Week began Monday and was scheduled to last all week. Because of the winds, literary events that were originally supposed to take place on Wednesday and Thursday were canceled. Welze hopes to salvage the last day of the celebration on Friday when people return to school.

“The impact [of the winds] on the Celebration of Literature Week has been disappointing, as the English Department. . . put a lot of effort into organizing fun activities,” Welze said. “I’ll be eating a giant Shakespeare cake alone if we don’t get back to campus soon.”

Students — similar to teachers — have also had their daily routines impeded by high winds, especially senior Audrey Nelson. As a resident of Woodside, an elevated area now desecrated with fallen trees, Nelson has had to navigate her way to school through uncommon driving routes. The challenges of getting to school have only been further exacerbated with the addition of heavy rain, which, combined with the wind, has precipitated rockslides and other road damages. 

“[Because of the winds and rain,] it takes me around an extra 40 minutes to get to school each day, which means that I get less sleep,” Nelson said.

Accompanying a decrease in sleep, Nelson has also had to combat other difficulties. The road blockages, coupled with traffic, render it almost impossible for her to readily participate in extracurricular activities. 

“I have to leave early from [Debate Club] to get home at a reasonable time to do my homework, and I wasn’t able to go to a debate tournament because the roads [were] blocked,” Nelson said. 

Nelson wasn’t the only one who was faced with road blockages — English teacher and journalism advisor Kim Wetzel was also forced to maneuver through traffic, avoiding tree debris. Wetzel was shocked by the damage she saw while driving through Los Altos on Tuesday afternoon.

“It looked like a tornado had come through,” Wetzel said. “There were trees down everywhere, and some had fallen on the roads. It looked a bit like a war zone. It was unbelievable.”

This is a developing story. Check back for more updates.