The Spokesman-Review

Winter storm warning issued

WEDNESDAY, DEC. 10, 2008, 3:40 P.M.

A winter storm watch was issued today by the National Weather Service for snow, wind and arctic cold coming to the Inland Northwest over a three-day period starting on Friday. As the storm subsides and arctic cold takes over, low temperatures could plunge to minus-17 degrees by dawn on Wednesday in Spokane and elsewhere in the region. Wintry conditions are expected to pesist through Dec. 20.

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

The seasonal weather that is expected on Thursday and Friday morning won’t last long. A developing low off the coast of Alaska was already starting its predicted migration southward on Wednesday, and was expected to continue pushing southward while intensifying on Thursday.

The storm could start as rain in the Spokane and Coeur d’Alene regions during the day Friday and then turn to snow after nightfall.

Snow will begin developing Friday morning along the Canadian border and move its way southward with heavy snow possible late Friday and into Saturday, the weather service said.

Forecasters said 8 inches is likely in Spokane. Up to foot of snow is expected in Coeur d’Alene, Colville and Pullman. Wallace could see 19 inches; the Columbia Basin lower amounts. But mountain areas might get even more. Wind gusts of 30 to 40 mph may accompany the precipitation.

A second snowy low on Sunday will be accompaned by a blast of arctic air that was moving southward from Alaska on Wednesday. It could bring the lowest temperatures the Inland Northwest has had in nearly four years.

“We could see teens to 20 below in some outlying areas,” said forecaster Jon Fox.

Forecasters are unsure where the majority of snow will hit, but predictions are up to 30 inches in the nearby mountain areas and possibly 12 inches in lower elevations of the Inland Northwest.

Snowfall rates could reach 1 to 2 inches per hour during the peak of the storm, caused by an unusual combination of storm-inducing meteorology, the weather service said. A mix of northerly cold and southwesterly moisture is expected to wrap around itself into a nasty punch, forecasters said.

Winds could cause blowing and drifting snow, and pose a threat of blocked roads, forecasters said.

The wind chill could be 10 to 20 below zero by Sunday. By Monday, arctic air will have moved into the region, and raise the risk of hypothermia both for humans and pets. Frozen water pipes could be a problem for some homes. Motorists are advised to carry winter supplies such as emergency food, water, sand, a shovel and flares or reflectors.

Temperatures could be well below zero on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Kootenai County Sheriff Rocky Watson today issued a warning to residents who are planning to travel or to be outdoors. 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,” Watson said.

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

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

Jody Lawrence-Turner contributed to this report.

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