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Forecaster predicts spring precipitation

Cold weather may linger in February, and this spring may deliver more snow and rain than first predicted, according to an expert forecaster who delivered a dose of short-term hope to farmers Tuesday.

“We might have normal precipitation this spring, which is a lot better than what we were predicting last fall,” said Art Douglas, retired environmental and atmospheric science department chairman from Creighton University in Omaha, Neb.

Farmers call him “The Weatherman” for his annual prognostications delivered at Spokane Ag Expo and Pacific Northwest Farm Forum. His long-range forecasts are right often enough that farmers consider his predictions when making planting decisions.

This summer and most of next year will be very dry as an El Nino settles and strengthens in the Pacific Ocean, Douglas said.

An upside is that temperatures during the summer may be a bit cooler, meaning less chance of heat stress for wheat crops that may already be struggling because of little rain, he said.

Center will open to aid small businesses

The U.S. Small Business Administration announced Tuesday that it is opening a temporary disaster loan outreach center in Spokane to help small businesses affected by storms Dec. 12 through Jan. 5.

The SBA is making disaster assistance available in all Washington counties and neighboring counties in Idaho and Oregon. The temporary outreach center will be in the Spokane Regional Business Center, 801 W. Riverside Ave. It will operate Feb. 9-11 and Feb. 17-19 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Working capital loans for up to $2 million at an interest rate of 4 percent a year for 30 years may be available for a wide range of expenses that can’t be paid because of the snow disaster impact, officials said.


Idaho guard unit may head back to Iraq

When the Idaho National Guard’s 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team deployed to Iraq in 2004, it was the largest deployment of any Idaho unit since World War II. Now, the same unit has gotten preliminary word that it could be going back to Iraq in 2010.

Maj. Gen. Larry LaFrenz passed the word to state lawmakers Tuesday during the budget hearing on the state’s military division.

Lt. Col. Tim Marsano, Idaho National Guard spokesman, said, “It’s penciled in, but it’s definitely not in any ink form yet.” A Pentagon working model that gives troops an early heads-up that they could be called showed the 2010 deployment, which would likely be for 12 months, down from the 18-month deployment in 2004-05.

The 116th includes more than 4,000 citizen-soldiers, about half of them from Idaho, Marsano said. The rest are mostly from Montana and Oregon.

If the unit is deployed again, it could be many of the same men and women going for a second time, Marsano said, because many have re-enlisted.

John Stucke Mike Prager Betsy Z. Russell