Arrow-right Camera


Had Enough? Spring Is Just Around Corner Relief In Sight From A Winter That’s Worn Out Welcome

Wed., March 19, 1997

If winter seemed interminably long this year, no wonder.

The first snow of the season arrived 153 days ago when a half-inch fell in Spokane on Oct. 18.

In the months since, the Inland Northwest was slammed with one weather disaster after another, the latest being more flooding.

“I think everybody is tired of winter, mainly because it started so early,” said Ken Holmes, forecaster for the National Weather Service in Spokane.

“It started out with quite a scream.”

Spring arrives at 5:56 a.m. Thursday.

After the past six months, the outlook seems promising.

The Weather Service is predicting above-normal temperatures and normal precipitation for April, May and June.

Geography Professor Bob Quinn of Eastern Washington University said most of the spring rain will fall in late March and April.

Quinn, an expert in long-range weather trends, said he expects a warm-up in May and June corresponding to the development of a seasonal high pressure system off the coast.

But Quinn, who correctly predicted the severe early winter, said spring can be fickle. “Trying to predict spring (weather) is a hard thing to do,” he said.

But for now, residents are still cleaning up from ice storms in November. So many trees were downed on Tubbs Hill in Coeur d’Alene that a helicopter was used to remove them without damaging the park.

As if the ice wasn’t bad enough, winter kicked into high gear with some 42 inches of snow in December. That was just 8 inches shy of the total for a normal Spokane winter.

After the snow came floods on streams like Latah and Rock creeks in Spokane County and Milo Creek in Kellogg. The water washed through subdivisions in neighborhoods like Moran Prairie in south Spokane.

Then, late winter brought furious storms to the mountains, where snowpacks have piled up to 150 percent of normal or more.

In Spokane, more than 16 inches of precipitation has been recorded since Oct. 1, the same amount that falls over the course of a normal year.

In Lewiston, the only official weather reporting station in North Idaho, 10.57 inches of precipitation were recorded in the same period, nearly twice the normal amount.

Experts say winter’s aftermath will hang around for months. Warm rain started melting the snowpack this week, heightening already dangerous water levels throughout the region.

On Tuesday, the National Weather Service issued a small stream flood advisory for northeast Washington and North Idaho.

Water levels continue to creep up in sections of Spokane County. Seep lakes to the southwest are filling yards and covering roads. Fields are turning to ponds.

In Medical Lake, old-timers haven’t seen the water so high in at least 35 years, said police Officer Dane Gilman.

“We’ve got it pretty much surrounding us,” Gilman said. “It’s becoming quite a worry.”

The road linking Medical Lake and Four Lakes is flooded down to one lane where it crosses between Silver Lake and North Silver Lake.

Police Chief Christopher Elg has watched water creep into his yard from the normally tame Tule Lake, just a short hop from Silver Lake. A residential intersection nearby is impassable.

County Commissioner Phil Harris has called for turning all of Clear Lake, and possibly Silver Lake, into no-wake zones as an emergency measure so boaters won’t cause damage to property with waves from their crafts.

Flooding problems are being reported on Five Mile Prairie and along Shady Slope Road, county officials said.

The cause of all the severe weather was a persistent clash between cold air from Canada and mild air from the Pacific Ocean.

This happened because of a split flow in the high altitude winds that steer storms around the globe.

November’s ice storm came when the polar branch of the jet stream dropped frigid air into the Inland Northwest while moist air streamed ashore off the Oregon coast under the influence of the southern branch of the jet stream.

That pattern repeated itself on New Year’s Eve when the southern branch penetrated into the Columbia Basin and displaced the cold air that caused December’s snowfall. Floods were the result.

The southern branch is reasserting itself again this week, causing snow levels to rise above mountain tops and threatening more floods.

For now, flood danger is confined to areas that have poor drainage, like southwest Spokane County, and creeks flowing off the lower slopes such as the Little Spokane River and Dragoon Creek north of the city.

Major rivers might see flooding later this spring if the snowpack melts quickly, said Holmes.

“We are worrying about spring floods,” he said.

About the only severe types of weather that didn’t happen this winter were extreme cold and high winds. The lowest temperature was 1 degree on Dec. 17. The peak wind was 43 mph. on Jan. 1.

Winter was on the cold side, however. The average temperatures were 1.48 degrees below normal.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo Graphic: Winter in the Inland Northwest


Click here to comment on this story »