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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane restores power to thousands, picks up countless tree limbs after surprise snowstorm

UPDATED: Thu., Oct. 10, 2019

Chris Duff, center, drags a large branch off of Manito Boulevard Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019. Heavy wet snow overnight brought down trees and branches around the region. At right is Duff’s mother, Carol Duff, who is visiting from Georgia. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Chris Duff, center, drags a large branch off of Manito Boulevard Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019. Heavy wet snow overnight brought down trees and branches around the region. At right is Duff’s mother, Carol Duff, who is visiting from Georgia. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
By Jonathan Brunt Chad Sokol and Emma Epperly The Spokesman-Review

Unseasonably cold temperatures are expected to continue this week as Spokane residents grapple with power outages and finish clearing debris from a surprise October snowstorm that struck early Wednesday.

There was no additional rain or snow in the immediate forecast, but Mark Turner, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Spokane, said Thursday could see low temperatures in the mid-20s and highs in the upper 40s or lower 50s.

“That’s still below normal,” Turner said, noting that temperatures have historically ranged from 39 to 62 degrees this time of year.

Friday should be slightly warmer with clear skies, but still unusually frosty, Turner said.

The storm struck before many trees began to show their fall colors, snapping branches in the middle of the night, cutting power to tens of thousands of homes and forcing Spokane Public Schools to declare a snow day.

In the morning, residents were out clearing thickets of fallen maple limbs from streets, sidewalks and yards across the South Hill, the hardest-hit part of the city.

The damage reminded Gene Cory, who’s lived on the South Hill for 33 years, of the aftermath of Spokane’s ice storm of 1996.

“The ice storm wasn’t this bad, the damage at least,” Cory said while clearing branches on Manito Boulevard with several neighbors. “It brought a lot of trees down, but nothing like this.”

The weather service reported that 3.3 inches of snow had fallen at the Spokane International Airport by 1 a.m. Wednesday, breaking the daily snowfall record for Oct. 8. (Daily weather measurements are taken at 1 a.m. during daylight saving time.) The previous record for the day was only a trace in 1981.

Turner said another 0.3 inches of snow had fallen by 4 a.m. Meteorologist Steven Van Horn said the heaviest band of snow appeared to track south of Interstate 90 from Spokane into Idaho.

Avista Utilities reported more than 32,000 customers were without power at about 2 a.m. Wednesday. The company said it had about 40 teams of two to four people working to repair power lines and clear vegetation.

About 5,400 customers were without power Wednesday at 10 p.m., the vast majority of them within Spokane city limits. Avista said it could take two days or more to restore power for some customers who needed private electricians to address damage that the utility could not.

Inland Power and Light reported about 3,400 customers were without power at about 8:30 a.m., most in Stevens County. By the afternoon the number affected was less than 200, and no outages were reported as of 8 p.m.

Spokane Public Schools canceled classes Wednesday, citing power outages and blocked streets. Classes started two hours late in other parts of Spokane County, including the Cheney, Medical Lake, Reardan-Edwall, Nine Mile Falls, Orchard Prairie and Great Northern school districts.

Problems from the weather were readily apparent shortly after midnight. Spokane police reported about 2 a.m. Wednesday that numerous streets were blocked by branches and many traffic lights out.

Grand Boulevard on the South Hill appeared impassable at 2:45 a.m. with branches covering the street for many blocks, but most obstacles were cleared by 6 a.m. Power went out along the Division-Ruby corridor.

Spokane Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer said his department received 120 calls for service as the snow began to bring down branches. Three teams of firefighters worked overnight to clear debris from emergency routes.

Firefighters also responded to several fires sparked by downed power lines. All were quickly extinguished.

There were no reports of significant injuries resulting from the storm. Schaeffer said people should stay away from downed power lines as well as trees weighted down by snow.

Steven Hartling, who gathered Wednesday with a group of neighbors near West Ninth Avenue and South Cedar Street, said he started clearing trees early in the morning before going to check on the eight rental properties he owns around town.

“One of my tenants called and told me to bring my chain saw,” Hartling said. “I couldn’t think of too many trees to worry about, though.”

Tree limbs fell throughout Manito Park, forming tangled mounds around the playground area.

Angel Spell, the city’s urban forester, said a small number of mature trees may need to be removed, though staff had not fully assessed the damage by Wednesday afternoon.

“Our No. 1 priority is to first address any public safety hazards that are out there,” Spell said.

Street crews, along with personnel from the Water Department and Wastewater Management, were out most of the night clearing debris from arterials and spreading deicer on hills to mitigate slick conditions. They continued to focus on those routes Wednesday morning before moving on to residential streets.

In some areas, downed trees were moved to roadsides to allow traffic to pass. Crews planned to return later to remove the trees.

Crews typically load deicers and prepare the city’s snow plow fleet in October. City spokeswoman Marlene Feist said that work began early this year, after storms were predicted and early snow hit at the end of September.

“We’re about as ready as we could be for an Oct. 9 snow storm,” Feist said.

Martha Lou Wheatley-Billeter, a spokeswoman for Spokane County’s Public Works Department, said crews plowed roads in some parts of the county, as well as deicing and removing trees and branches.

Wheatley-Billeter said the hardest-hit areas included the West Plains, some spots north of Francis Avenue and stretches of Bigelow Gulch, Argonne and Forker roads. She urged drivers to slow down when the roads are icy.

While rare, the Inland Northwest has experienced similar amounts of snowfall in October before. Spokane’s record snow for an October day occurred Oct. 22, 1957, when 5.9 inches fell. Tuesday’s official snowfall likely will make it the second snowiest October day on record.

In the 35 years Stoddard Hodgson has lived in Spokane, he’s never seen so much snow this early, he said, while helping neighbors clear branches.

“It was like 55 degrees last night. Who expected snow?” Hodgson said. “It’s a freak of nature.”

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