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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Idaho

It may be vacation, but not exactly summer

Nearly three times the normal amount of rain fell on Spokane last month. More’s on the way.

Farmers and firefighters are especially happy to see the relief, especially after a bone-dry early spring and six years of drought.

“It’s bought us some time,” said Brian Shiplett, chief of the Idaho Department of Lands’ fire management bureau in Coeur d’Alene. “Clearly, if this continues we’re tending toward a more normal fire season.”

But the wet, gray skies are the last thing students want to see as the school year ends. Most schools in the region let out this week. Monday was the last day for Gabe Herrera, a 14-year-old from Coeur d’Alene.

“It’s summer, it should be hot,” he said, pausing during a bike ride near the city’s Tubbs Hill park. “I’d rather be swimming.”

Nearly 300 Spokane Valley elementary school students had their field trip to a water park canceled Wednesday because of the weather, said Sherry Henry, manager of the Wild Waters waterslide park in Coeur d’Alene. The facility opened for the season Memorial Day weekend. So far, it’s been closed all but two days.

“It’s just too cold,” Henry said.

Typical summer days can send more than 1,000 people to the park. Tuesday morning, 30 “die-hard” season pass holders slid down the chutes before the park shut down because of the cold weather, Henry said. Although the season ends in only 13 weeks, Henry has high hopes. A record number of season passes have been sold. Besides, it’s fairly normal for June to be cool and rainy, she said.

The Spokane area had 3.67 inches of rain in May, which is 163 percent above normal, said Scott Pattee, a water supply specialist at the Natural Resources Conservation office in Mount Vernon, Wash. The region is still slightly below normal for precipitation. A warmer than usual early spring also melted high-elevation snowpack about a month earlier than normal. This snowpack is what keeps alive streams and rivers during dry periods later in the summer.

“That rain helped, but it didn’t help as much as you think it would, mainly because the snow is already gone,” Pattee said.

Last month, forecasters predicted the Spokane River at Post Falls to have 62 percent of average flow over the entire summer. Now, that number has been bumped to 72 percent, Pattee said. This is still low, but it’s better news for boaters and the trout that depend on cool, oxygen-rich water for survival.

The extra rain doesn’t make a big difference in terms of electricity generation, said Hugh Imhof, spokesman for Avista Utilities. “Unless the rain comes down in the form of snow, we really can’t store it. It just goes right on down the river.”

A month ago, local foresters were warning about record dry fuel conditions. In parts of North Idaho, fuel moisture levels were at readings not usually seen until July or August. The best thing that could happen, they said, was for an extended period of cool, moist weather.

Shiplett, with the Idaho Department of Lands, said it’s too early to tell how deeply the forests have been saturated.

“We don’t check when it’s raining,” he said.

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