The National Weather Service on Tuesday afternoon upgraded a high-wind watch to a high-wind warning for Wednesday across much of Eastern Washington and North Idaho, and utility companies and emergency services agencies were getting ready to respond to a new onslaught of power outages and other weather problems.
The Tuesday afternoon forecast for Wednesday called for southwest wind gusts to 55 mph starting about 8 a.m. with sustained winds of 34 mph.
The high-wind warning will be in effect from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Winds could start easing at nightfall a few hours before that.
Spokane tied a daily high temperature record of 56 degrees on Tuesday because of an influx of mild air in advance of the windy cold front expected Wednesday.
The record for Dec. 8 was last reached in 1938.
Winds were already picking up Tuesday afternoon, with gusts peaking at 40 mph at 3 p.m. at Spokane International Airport, and were expected to continue through the night.
Spokane Public Schools officials said they would wait until Wednesday morning to decide whether they would cancel or postpone school.
Elsewhere, the Greater Spokane Emergency Management department convened a meeting of emergency response agencies and utilities to talk about preparations for the storm.
Gerry Bozarth, public information officer, urged using caution when going outside during high winds.
He also asked the public to get ready for power outages. “We want people to be prepared,” he said.
The emergency response group was making no recommendations on whether to close schools Wednesday, even though the storm was set to hit as children and parents headed out for the day.
He said public works officials are gearing up for work to remove downed trees from roads and highways.
Emergency planning was also started for opening shelters and warming stations.
“We just have an abundance of caution,” he said.
Spokane city crews were dispatched Tuesday to clear storm drains to handle rainfall.
Airway Heights is closing Sunset Park at 6 a.m. Wednesday.
Avista is encouraging customers to report outages at (800) 227-9187 or online through a mobile device at avistautilities.com.
The Spokane Regional Health District repeated its warning about using fuel-powered devices indoors, which can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning. Three separate incidents of CO poisoning were reported following the Nov. 17 storm.
At Miller’s Do It Best hardware store, 2908 E. 29th Ave., customers were snatching up LED lanterns, batteries, lamp oil, and propane appliances and fuel.
“It’s just been kind of crazy today,” Debbie Hughes, one of the supervisors, said Tuesday.
The strongest winds are expected in areas to the northeast and downslope from the Blue Mountains in southeast Washington. Pullman could see gusts to 64 mph, forecasters said.
Pockets of high winds are expected across the Columbia Basin from the eastern foothills of the Cascades into the Palouse and North Idaho as well as the central Panhandle.
The latest forecast spares Coeur d’Alene from the worst of the winds, with gusts there expected to exceed 40 mph.
The storm comes just three weeks after 71 mph winds pummeled the region, knocking out power to more than 200,000 homes and businesses at the storm’s peak and leaving some people in the dark for a week or longer.
Forecasters and other experts said soft ground soaked by record rainfall on Monday could make trees more vulnerable to being uprooted in the wind.
In addition, trees damaged in the Nov. 17 storm could fail in strong gusts. As a result, emergency services and utility managers were preparing for trouble.
Officials cautioned that high rainfall amounts could lead to flooding and landslides on steep terrain. They advised motorists to drive with caution and watch for hazards, including downed trees and limbs.
Drivers of high-profile vehicles might consider parking their rigs during the height of the winds.
On Wednesday, the weather service is calling for sustained winds from the southwest at about 36 to 40 mph at Spokane International Airport with gusts going to 55 mph.
A quarter-inch of additional rain in Spokane – even more in mountain areas – is forecast through the day Wednesday. A flood advisory remains in effect for the region until 12:15 a.m. Thursday.
Staff writer Eli Francovich contributed to this report.
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