Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

January meltdown

Wade Kahn, owner of the Kahnderosa RV Campground, stands by the Coeur d'Alene River, which runs along his property in Cataldo, Idaho. Although the river is up, it was still 6 feet or so from coming onto his campground. Kahn was confident the river wouldn't go much higher.
 (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

CATALDO, Idaho – Like many other rivers across the region, the Coeur d’Alene broke a daily flow record Wednesday and was roiling with about seven times its usual amount of water for the middle of January.

The threat of flooding seems to have passed, but concern is now shifting to the dry terrain left behind by the near-record-breaking warm weather. Snowpack was low before the warm-up – about 60 to 70 percent of normal in much of the Inland Northwest, said Rick Patten, a hydrologist with the Idaho Panhandle National Forests.

Since Monday, most of the region’s lower- and middle-elevation snowpack has been erased. The high-elevation snow remains, but a temperature inversion and nights above freezing have quickly turned the mountains brown and further hampered an already tough season at area ski resorts.

In a typical year, the higher elevations stay covered with snow longer, and the high-country snowpack is critical for keeping rivers and streams full of water through summer months. Most of the season’s snow usually falls by the middle of January, leaving a bleak outlook for a recovery, Patten said.

“We’re going to go into the spring pretty low,” Patten said.

The official high temperature measured at the Spokane International Airport on Wednesday was 47 degrees, which is 1 degree short of the record set in 1899, said Todd Lericos, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. Downtown Spokane, however, reached 54 degrees.

Coeur d’Alene and Sandpoint topped out at 50 degrees, which is likely a record, Lericos said, adding, “We can’t really call them records because we don’t have enough of a database at those particular locations.”

The warm weather is expected to linger through Tuesday.

The biggest flush of snowmelt occurred Tuesday in the Spokane and Coeur d’Alene areas, Lericos said. Most of the region’s rivers have already crested and there have been no reports of flood-related problems. There’s a chance for light rain this afternoon, but forecasters don’t expect any flooding.

“We’re pretty safe,” Lericos said. “It will probably be just a trace. We need to get about a quarter of an inch (for flooding). We’re not going to get anywhere near that with this system.”

Joe Peak, owner of the Enaville Resort along the banks of the Coeur d’Alene River near Cataldo, Idaho, said local residents have their fingers crossed that the unusual weather will not bring a big flush of rain.

“If we get a gully washer, we could be in trouble,” he said. “What we’re concerned about also is it’s not cooling down at night. The snow keeps melting.”

Peak said he feels relieved the river crested without an ice jam or flooding, but his bar and restaurant will likely be unusually quiet without snow covering the nearby ski and snowmobile trails.

“Business is down – way down,” Peak said. “We’ve only really had two good weekends this winter.”