Just three weeks after 71 mph winds raked the Inland Northwest, an approaching Pacific storm is expected to send another blast of high winds across the region on Wednesday with gusts of 55 mph.
Emergency managers and utilities are bracing for power outages, downed trees and other problems from a storm expected
Wednesday, as a low-pressure area moves across the region bringing winds from the west-southwest.
Sustained winds of about 32 mph and gusts of 55 mph or stronger are forecast in Spokane starting about 10 a.m. and continuing for about six hours before the winds die down around nightfall Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service.
The strongest winds are expected in Eastern Washington and North Idaho from Spokane and Coeur d’Alene south to Lewiston.
The forecast on Wednesday afternoon called for peak wind gusts of 55 mph in Spokane, 48 mph in Coeur d’Alene, 60 mph in Pullman, 43 mph in St. Maries and 49 mph in Lewiston.
The prediction for a new windstorm is “a recipe for problems,” said Derek Babcock, a certified arborist with Arborist Tree Service in Spokane.
He said the Nov. 17 storm left many trees cracked or otherwise damaged, and wet soils from recent rains make trees vulnerable to being blown down.
“I am guessing there are a lot of trees that are going to go down,” he said.
Still, the sustained wind speed expected Wednesday is less than the 41 mph wind speed experienced on Nov. 17. For that reason, National Weather Service meteorologists said Monday, “local tree damage and power outages will be possible if we achieve these speeds but widespread impacts similar to Nov. 17 are not anticipated.”
Brian Heywood, a certified arborist with Spokane ProCare, said this year’s drought-like conditions left wood inside trees dry and more brittle than normal. The stress has left trees vulnerable, he said.
Forecaster Robin Fox said “weak limbs and leaning trees can still come down, especially in the rain-soaked soils.”
Avista Utilities spokeswoman Debbie Simock said the utility is monitoring the forecast and has been restocking supplies needed in case power goes out.
Crews are still working on cleanup from the widespread damage to its electrical system that cut power to 200,000 customers at the peak of the November storm. Outages involved several utility companies in Eastern Washington and North Idaho.
“We are like everyone else, holding our breath and hoping the storm dissipates,” Simock said.
Gerry Bozarth of Greater Spokane Emergency Management said emergency services, weather and utility staff will meet on Tuesday morning to go over plans for the storm if the forecast continues to call for high winds.
In Kootenai County, the Sheriff’s Office has asked residents to prepare for potential power outages by having food, water, flashlights, batteries and other emergency items and to prepare for potential flooding.
If the 911 system is overwhelmed with calls, then the Sheriff’s Office will open a non-emergency inquiry line at (208) 446-2292.
Drivers should watch for flooded roads and not try to cross through deep water, officials said. In addition, mud and rock slides may create hazards, especially in mountain areas, the Sheriff’s Office said.
Before the Wednesday storm, temperatures are going to be unusually mild. A forecast high of 56 in Spokane on Tuesday would tie a warm temperature record for Dec. 8 and be 23 degrees warmer than the normal high.
Winds will start to accelerate on Tuesday, with rain and southwest wind gusts to 33 mph.
Temperatures later in the week will be in the lower 40s for highs and 30s for lows. More rain is expected later in the week.
In the mountains, the forecast calls for a mix of rain and snow. Mainly rain will fall at higher elevations until a cold front arrives with the windstorm on Wednesday, Fox said.
Heavy snow was reported in the mountains over the weekend, but snow levels had increased during the day Monday, Fox said.
Silver Mountain Resort in North Idaho reported a foot of new snow Monday morning.