A powerful burst of wind, possibly in excess of 80 mph, knocked down a string of Avista transmission poles near Potlatch, Idaho, at the height of Tuesday morning’s storm that darkened thousands of homes in the Palouse and across the region.
“The poles just broke like toothpicks,” said Debbie Simock, communications manager for Avista Utilities.
The National Weather Service reported that an automated weather station near Pullman had an 85 mph gust during the storm.
A line of thunderstorms that moved south of Spokane early Tuesday may have intensified the winds near Pullman and Potlatch, meteorologists said.
Wind-caused outages plagued the Palouse region and areas to the south, including Lewiston and Grangeville, and Avista was struggling late Tuesday to get all of the lights back on.
At the peak of the storm, Avista had 45,000 customers in the dark.
“The storm just wreaked havoc on the southern portion of our service area,” Simock said.
Forecasters said the rain and wind merely set the stage for a predicted onset of winter weather by week’s end.
A new storm was brewing off the Pacific coast of Canada, destined to bring rain initially and then snow to the Inland Northwest by Friday or Saturday.
Accumulations will start in the mountains and drop to the valleys, where amounts will generally be light, although some areas could see an inch or more, forecasters said.
That next storm could also open the door to a flood of arctic air that may arrive starting Saturday and intensify on Sunday and Monday.
Lows could drop to the teens or lower on Sunday night and single digits Monday night. Highs may only make the 20s.
At 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, Avista reported that nearly 25,000 connections were without power. That number had been cut to 4,400 by 10 p.m.
Simock said 11 transmission poles needed to be re-raised near Potlatch along with repairs to another transmission line near Grangeville.
Some outages may persist into today, she said.
Moderate-sized outages also were reported in the Spokane and Coeur d’Alene areas. Downed trees were reported across the area, some blocking repair crews.
Nearly all Spokane-area customers were back on line by Tuesday afternoon.
Inland Power and Light had 700 without power in Pullman and Colfax and roughly another 300 in scattered outages throughout their service region.
Kootenai Electric Cooperative reported that 500 of its customers lost power.