Spokane and North Idaho residents may want to prepare for the possibility of a Thanksgiving without power or a hazardous trip home for the holiday, as forecasters predicted an unusually strong windstorm will move into the area early Wednesday morning.
Blustery winds are expected to start around 4 a.m. Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service. Wind speeds will likely be around 30 to 40 mph, and could reach as high as 55 mph, in the Moses Lake, upper Columbia Basin and Spokane areas. North Idaho likely will be the hardest hit, with wind speeds in Sandpoint that could reach up to 60 mph.
Downed trees and power outages are expected, and tall vehicles could be difficult to control in the wind.
Andy Brown, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said the expected storm is unusual for this time of year and would impact travel in Eastern Washington, including families traveling to Western Washington as well. He said it is expected to be cold in the Inland Northwest and there likely will be flurries of snow, but heavy snowfall is only expected in the Cascade mountains.
In 2013, Brown said a similar storm caused about 11,000 people to lose power, and this one will likely cause similar issues in North Idaho and northeastern Washington. In 2015, a windstorm with high winds from the southwest knocked out power for more than 20,000 Avista customers. Unlike the last storm, the cold, high-speed winds are from Canada.
“This is a very unusual storm,” Brown said. “It’s a very different scenario (from 2015) but we may see the same impacts.”
He said roads will likely be blocked by downed trees and that residents, especially in North Idaho, should make sure they are be prepared if their power goes out.
David Howell, director of operations for Avista, said the company will have crews ready to respond to outages early Wednesday morning and encouraged Avista customers to call as soon as possible if they see an issue.
“Each storm is unique and we’re ready to respond,” Howell said. “Our goal is to restore customers as quickly as possible.”
He said the worst power outages likely will be in Sandpoint and Coeur d’Alene, but Spokane is at risk as well. He encouraged customers to prepare for an emergency and power outage by stocking up on batteries, flashlights and blankets.
He also encouraged customers to stay away from downed power lines and call for help right away. Customers can reach Avista with power issues at (800) 227-9187.
City of Spokane spokeswoman Marlene Feist said the city has winter crews out 20 hours a day seven days a week, but if conditions deteriorate Wednesday, they will be out 24 hours a day to clean up trees, snow or any other hazards. She said sewer and water crews could assist street workers if the storm causes serious damage.
“We’ve been watching the wind, and the chainsaws are ready to go if we need them,” she said.
Spokane Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer said the fire department would have additional staff available during the worst of the windstorm Wednesday and planned to have alternative, two-person response units patrolling the downtown area to help homeless people get to shelters. He said Wednesday could be even colder than normal because of windchill and that the city contacted homeless shelters Tuesday in advance of Wednesday’s storm.
He said the fire department also had additional staff ready to deal with dangers from power lines that go down Wednesday or dangerous trees.
“It doesn’t take much to push over a 100-foot pine tree, especially with 50 mph winds,” he said.
Some snow flurries are expected Wednesday with the worst winds in the morning. Thanksgiving and the days after are expected to be cold but far calmer and drier.
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