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Forecasters warn of storm bearing serious snow, frigid air

A winter storm watch was issued Wednesday by the National Weather Service for snow, wind and arctic cold in the Inland Northwest over three days starting Friday.

As the storm subsides and cold takes over, low temperatures could fall to minus 17 degrees by dawn Wednesday in Spokane and elsewhere in the region. Wintry conditions are expected to persist through Dec. 20.

“Wind, snow, cold are coming,” said John Livingston, meteorologist in charge of the Weather Service’s Spokane bureau.

While seasonal weather is expected today and Friday morning, it’s expected to change by nightfall Friday. A developing low-pressure system over Alaska was moving south Wednesday and expected to continue pushing toward the region today.

The storm might start as rain in the Spokane and Coeur d’Alene areas and then turn to snow by Friday evening. Areas closer to Canada would see snow first.

Forecasters said Spokane will likely see 8 inches of snow. As much as a foot is expected in Coeur d’Alene, Colville and Pullman. Wallace could see 19 inches, and other mountain areas might get more. The Columbia Basin isn’t expected to see heavy snow, but southwest wind gusts of 30 to 40 mph could accompany precipitation throughout the region.

A second snowy low-pressure system Sunday should be joined by a blast of arctic air that was pooled up in northern Canada on Wednesday. “We could see teens to 20-below in some outlying areas,” forecaster Jon Fox said.

It would be the coldest weather since Spokane dropped to minus 22 degrees Jan. 5, 2004.

The storm watch called for as much as a foot of snow in lower elevations and more in the mountains, including nearly all of North Idaho as well as Spokane, Whitman, Stevens, Pend Oreille, Ferry and parts of Lincoln and Okanogan counties.

Snowfall rates could reach 1 to 2 inches an hour during the storm’s peak, forecasters said.

Northeast winds Sunday could cause blowing and drifting snow and, in a worst-case scenario, block roads in areas such as the Rathdrum Prairie and the Palouse, forecasters said. Emergency supervisors were beginning preparations Wednesday.

The wind chill could be 10 to 20 below zero by Sunday. Monday’s high was forecast at 11 for Spokane. The severe cold is expected to continue through Wednesday.

Arctic air would raise the risk of injury or stress to humans and pets.

Frozen water pipes could be a problem for some homes. Leaving a faucet slowly dripping can prevent a freeze, but insulating pipes in unheated areas is smart, too. Open flames should not be used to thaw pipes. Residents should know where their main shut-off are in case pipes burst, Spokane city officials said.

Motorists were advised to carry winter supplies such as emergency food, extra clothing, water, traction sand, a shovel and flares or reflectors. Homes should be prepared with emergency supplies, flashlight, radio and batteries. Fuel-powered energy sources can cause carbon monoxide poisoning if used indoors or in carports, state officials said.

Kootenai County sheriff’s Capt. Ben Wolfinger issued a warning to residents who are planning to travel or be outdoors. Christmas tree-cutting could be dangerous, he said in a press release.

“Citizens are encouraged to seriously evaluate travel plans prior to going to the woods this weekend, or maybe changing plans to purchase a tree from one of the many local organizations or businesses,” he said.

The forecast of mountain snow prompted the Washington Department of Transportation to close the North Cascades Highway on Wednesday.

The department will evaluate conditions Monday and decide whether to leave the stretch of Highway 20 closed for the winter.

Staff writer Jody Lawrence- Turner contributed to this story. Mike Prager can be reached at or (509) 459-5454.

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