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Violent storm, lightning skip over Spokane

Wed., May 11, 2005, midnight

From flash floods to devastating lightning, the Inland Northwest has had its share of extreme weather in the last couple of days.

But the violent rainstorm that hammered the Palouse countryside and smote a Wilbur, Wash., home with lightning Monday mostly bypassed the Coeur d’Alene and Spokane areas.

“We were just on the northern edge of the system,” said National Weather Service hydrologist Charles Roth.

While Sandpoint only received .04 inches of rain as of Tuesday morning from the storm, some parts of the Palouse got 3 inches, Roth said.

Latah County, Idaho, was drenched Monday night, said Sandy Rollins, the county’s disaster services coordinator.

“We just got dumped. It happened so fast,” she said.

The downpour caused small streams to flood and back up culverts that cross the state highway from Moscow to Troy, Idaho, she said.

“Water was gushing over the roadway,” she said.

One family was evacuated after 6 feet of water and debris flooded their basement. The Red Cross put the family up in a motel until Latah County’s community response team can clean up the mess.

In Wilbur, Wash., 65 miles west of Spokane, a lightning bolt struck the three-story home of Tom and Toni Robertson. No one was home at the time, Tom Robertson said. They were in downtown Wilbur ordering dinner at the Billy Burger drive-in.

“It blew the loft right out of the dude,” Robertson said. “It blew a wall out and made one heck of a mess.”

Annette Rustemeyer, whose yard in Lincoln County, Wash., was flooded with gravel, stubble and mud, said the 5 p.m. storm filled an empty bucket in her pickup with about 2½ inches of rain.

While the Weather Service was calling for a 100 percent chance of rain in the region through Tuesday night, and extended a small-stream flood warning through the evening, the rain is expected to taper off today.The St. Joe River in Benewah County, Idaho, was expected to make a run toward flood stage Tuesday evening and this morning, but is unlikely to reach or exceed the flood stage, according to the Weather Service.

Similarly, the Coeur d’Alene River near Cataldo, Idaho, was rising but unlikely to flood.

The rivers are not at much risk of flooding this spring because of the low snowpack. The recent storm has helped slow the snowmelt in the mountains, but did little to improve the dismal snowpack, which is at 50 percent of normal in the St. Joe River basin and only 29 percent of normal in the Coeur d’Alene River basin, said Ron Abramovich, a water supply specialist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Because 75 percent of river flows come from the mountain snowpack, the rivers are likely to be relatively low for the rest of the year.

“It will be a short high-water season, so the river-runners should get ready now to go boating,” Abramovich said. “And for the peak flows, there won’t be very high peaks.”

In contrast to North Idaho, precipitation south of the Snake River is at 270 percent of normal, he said. There, farmers dogged by drought in recent years are now begging for sun.

Even in North Central Idaho, the recent rains have been extreme, causing an estimated $5.3 million in damage from a series of flash floods Friday and Sunday afternoon that washed away parts of seven county roads. Another $750,000 in damage was estimated to private homes and outbuildings.

The Weather Service is calling for sunny skies Thursday in the Coeur d’Alene and Spokane areas, with the possibility of rain returning by the weekend.


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