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Winter storm watch for Wednesday

MONDAY, DEC. 15, 2008, 5:38 P.M.

A wind chill advisory that was in effect for most of Eastern Washington and North Idaho this morning was dropped this afternoon, but a winter storm watch was issued for 4 to 7 inches of snow in Valley locations starting Wednesday afternoon.

Even more cold and snow, and another round of arctic winds were expected later this week.

The highest wind speeds this morning were 22 mph at Stateline and 26 mph at Sandpoint. The overnight low dropped to 3 degrees at Spokane International Airport, but the thermometer bounced back to 13 at mid-day under sunny skies.

Even colder temperatures are expected tonight with lows hitting 7 degrees below zero in Spokane. Clear skies were expected to allow for a colder night.

Snow is expected Wednesday evening with moderate accumulations, and again on Sunday when there is a chance of significant snow, forecasters said.

A low pressure center that was passing over the Arctic Ocean on Monday was forecasted to descend southward and bring with it enough moisture to create a blanket of cold, “dry” snow, forecasters said. Friday could bring a reinforcing blast of arctic air with dangerous wind chills.

Spokane Police Officer Teresa Fuller said shaded residential side streets, particularly on the South Side, are icy and treacherous. However, the morning commute was going well without accidents today.

The frigid temperatures prompted Spokane and Coeur d’Alene shelters to open emergency warming centers for a second night on Sunday.

The combination of low temperatures and winds caused power outages around the region, as snapping limbs took down power lines and increased demand overwhelmed some equipment.

They also kept some roads across the Inland Northwest coated with ice. Law enforcement officials around the region reported slide-offs and minor collisions, and a three-vehicle accident closed Highway 26 near Dusty on Sunday afternoon and hospitalized three people.The National Weather Service suggests residents can expect more of the same throughout the week. Todd Carter, a meteorologist with the service’s Spokane office, said he doesn’t anticipate more snow today. His forecast was summed up in three words: “Clear and cold.”

The city of Spokane has a policy that activates overnight warming centers when the temperature is 15 degrees or lower, so the extended forecast suggests they’ll be open through the weekend.

Beds in most shelters are full, but the warming centers give people a chance to spend the night indoors in temporary accommodations, sleeping on sofas, chairs or floors.

Spokane’s House of Charity, which accepts single men, had 23 people in its warming center on Saturday night. The Salvation Army Center, open to couples, single women and women with children, had two people. Fresh Start in downtown Coeur d’Alene, which accepts adults and children accompanied by adults, had eight people.

“We know some people were still out in the camps last night,” said Dick Mott, a board member of the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Coeur d’Alene, which has pooled resources with Fresh Start for the warming center. “We’re worried about them and we’re spreading the word.”

Mott said the Coeur d’Alene warming center also is likely to stay open at least through the week.

Capt. Kyle Smith, of the Salvation Army in Spokane, said he believes use of the warming centers will grow the longer they stay open, because they become known mainly through word of mouth.

“We’re ready and willing,” Smith said. “If you see somebody who’s homeless, ask them, ‘Do you know about the shelters?’ You think everybody knows, but everybody does not know.”

The city of Spokane received less snow than predicted over the weekend, but most of the region got enough snow and ice to make driving hazardous in spots. U.S. 95 between Genesee and Moscow was closed from about 11 p.m. Saturday until shortly before noon Sunday because visibility fell to zero, the Idaho State Police reported.Avista reported scattered outages throughout the region, with the largest numbers in Liberty Lake, Colville, Deer Park and Spokane’s South Hill.

Some 2,100 customers in Liberty Lake and East Valley lost power Sunday morning when some equipment failed at a substation, said Avista spokeswoman Debbie Simock. That problem was repaired in about an hour, but many of the same customers had to be taken offline for about an hour in the afternoon so lines could be “de-energized” and the repairs completed.

Weather-related incidents, mainly falling trees and limbs from snow and wind, knocked out power to about 875 customers in and around Colville and about 450 Deer Park customers, Simock said. Most outages in Spokane, including about 180 customers in South Spokane, were caused by increased demand that overloaded equipment.

“The largest number of outages at any one time was about 2,200 customers,” Simock said.

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