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

Wind advisory for region expires

From staff reports

The National Weather Service Wednesday afternoon dropped a wind advisory from its forecast about five hours after it downgraded a high-wind warning to a wind advisory for the Inland Northwest.

While gusts to 61 mph were reported around 7 a.m., the southwest winds overall hit speeds that were below the prediction of peak gusts at 50 to 55 mph.

Forecasters said the stronger gusts were “spotty” and led to isolated wind damage.

The wind advisory expired at 4 p.m.

Reports of damage included a roof at the mail processing facility near Spokane International Airport and homes near Coeur d’Alene Airport, where a peak gust of 61 mph was measured by 7:15 a.m. A tree came down on Interstate 90 in Kootenai County, and another tree fell on Seventh Avenue in Coeur d’Alene, the weather service said.

Forecaster Greg Koch at the weather service in Spokane said Wednesday’s storm was consistent with the type of wind storms normally seen in the region.

“This was more of a typical wind event for the Inland Northwest rather than the extreme wind event we saw on Nov. 17,” he said.

Officials were pleased the storm “hasn’t been as destructive,” he said.

The Nov. 17 storm put out power to more than 200,000 homes and businesses at its height, with some dwellings staying dark for 10 days.

Schools across the region were open Wednesday for normal operations as the region braced for high winds.

Utilities went into preparation mode on Monday and Tuesday – refueling trucks, restocking warehouse supplies in Spokane and outlying areas and putting out initial calls about mutual aid from other utilities.

“We were on full alert and ready to respond to the storm that was expected,” said Debbie Simock, an Avista Utilities spokeswoman. “They were sharpening chainsaws to work on downed trees.”

At the storm’s peak, about 2,400 Avista customers were without power in scattered areas throughout the region. However, most Avista customers had their power restored by early afternoon, and for both Avista and Inland Power and Light customers, some of Wednesday’s outages were caused by motor vehicle accidents. About 280 Kootenai Electric Cooperative customers in North Idaho were without power for part of the day.

Simock said wind-related damage to Avista’s system was minimal this time around. By mid-afternoon, the utility crews were back at their regular duties.

Spokane Public Schools officials said parents were encouraged to keep their children home if they believed venturing out Wednesday was unsafe.

Spokane International Airport reported a peak gust out of the southwest at 52 mph, but the gusts backed off to 38 mph by 8 a.m. with passage of a cold front. Afternoon wind gusts went to 44 mph at the airport.

Post Falls had a 52 mph gust. Fairchild Air Force Base saw 53 mph, and Thornton in Whitman County had a peak wind of 63 mph.

Coeur d’Alene Airport reported a gust of 61 mph before 7:15 a.m. The peak at Schweitzer ski resort had a top gust of 73 mph. Mission Ridge near Wenatchee saw a 100 mph gust at an elevation of 6,700 feet.

Heavy rains that saturated the soil and November winds that weakened trees had emergency officials concerned about repeat damage.

The rain and wind arrived after Spokane tied two daily high temperature records. The 56 degrees recorded on Tuesday matched the 56 degrees on Dec. 8, 1938. and the 54 degrees early Wednesday tied the record from Dec. 9, 1957.

Highs of 60 to 70 degrees were reported on Tuesday from Walla Walla to Prosser in southern Washington.

Koch at the weather service said the difference in Wednesday’s storm came from two factors. First, a surface low-pressure area tracked farther south than the one on Nov. 17. That reduced the air pressure gradient in the Spokane region.

Secondly, it meant the strongest upper-elevation winds were farther to the south. Extreme winds like those on Nov. 17 are fueled in part by the momentum of higher-elevation winds descending closer to the ground behind a cold front.

Damage and flooding were reported in mountain areas from heavy rains overnight Tuesday into Wednesday.

The Pack River north of Sandpoint and Lightning Creek near Clark Fork had heavy runoff. Pack River was measured at 7,000 cubic feet per second, which is the highest flow recorded, officials said.

Lightning Creek was flowing at 5,000 cubic feet per second. Average flow is less than 200 cfs this time of year.

Heavy rain fell in the mountains Tuesday and early Wednesday, leading to a flood warning in Bonner and Boundary counties in North Idaho and Pend Oreille County in northeast Washington. The warning, which was to expire early Thursday, included the risk of washouts, landslides and creeks spilling over their banks. Standing water was expected in low-lying areas as a result. Up to 6 inches of rain was reported in the mountains of Bonner County.

The rush of water was expected to recede Thursday.

Oliver Road was washed out in Bonner County. In addition, water was flowing over roadways along Schweitzer, Sand and Grouse Creeks and Upper Pack River in Bonner County.

Elsewhere, a mudslide closed U.S. Highway 2 in Tumwater Canyon west of Leavenworth.

In Yakima County, the Naches River was approaching major flood level. The U.S. Forest Service said there are a number of roads being flooded or damaged and two bridges were inundated by flood waters near Naches. Forest cabins were cut off from outside.

Snow and rain return to the forecast starting Thursday morning. Lower elevations may see snow in the morning, but it is expected to melt off. Spokane might get up to an inch of slushy snow, forecasters said.

Another potential snowfall could coat the ground in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene with an inch or two Saturday night into Sunday morning, but daytime highs should be above freezing.

The chance of snow continues into the weekend. In Spokane, high temperatures will be near 40, with lows in the middle and lower 30s.

However, another cool-down is expected early next week, with temperatures dropping to the 20s and then teens by Tuesday.