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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Thousands lose power in Spokane area as winds snap lines

UPDATED: Wed., Oct. 14, 2020

Blue spruce limbs snapped off a tree and landed on the house and vehicles at 15th Avenue and Virginia Road in Spokane Valley during a windstorm on Tuesday.  (Colin Mulvany/The Spokesman-Review)
Blue spruce limbs snapped off a tree and landed on the house and vehicles at 15th Avenue and Virginia Road in Spokane Valley during a windstorm on Tuesday. (Colin Mulvany/The Spokesman-Review)
By Emma Epperly and Maggie Quinlan The Spokesman-Review

When a power line snaps, it sounds like a gunshot.

Alison Boggs, who teaches journalism at Washington State University, learned that Tuesday as she graded papers at her desk by the window. No branch fell, no tree toppled onto the wires.

“It sounded like a crack and the power line literally snapped right before my eyes,” Boggs said.

The lights shut off simultaneously. One end of the line landed in a neighbor’s driveway and another hung from Boggs’ spruce tree, she said.

Boggs’ house is one of 10,500 in the Inland Northwest that lost power by 6 p.m. Tuesday, two hours into a windstorm that saw gusts at 62 mph in Spokane.

In Spokane County alone, about 1 in 10 Inland Power customers had lost electricity by 5:15 p.m., according to the company’s outage map.

Around the peak of the wind storm at 5 p.m., meteorologists at the National Weather Service reported gusts at 62 mph in Spokane with an average wind speed of 46 mph, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Steven Van Horn. That’s higher than predicted.

Around that time, the airports in Pullman and Lewiston recorded gusts around 50 mph, Van Horn said.

Trees were toppled around Spokane, including one on Eighth Avenue that hit a power line and was set on fire. Another tree fell and pierced through the hood of a pickup truck, KXLY reported.

Around 4 p.m., the first major outage shut off the lights for 500 households in Lincoln County. Half an hour later, more than 680 houses lost power in the East Central Neighborhood and more than 1,600 in Spokane Valley off Dishman-Mica. By 5:40, more than 1,000 households went dark in Hayden.

By 7 p.m., more than 4,400 Spokane households were out of power, including about 3,000 Avista customers and 1,000 Inland Power & Light Co. customers, according to their websites.

About 1,500 households had lost power southeast of Chewelah and about 200 homes in Pullman had lost power, according to Avista.

Earlier in the day, meteorologists predicted the windstorm Tuesday would not be as severe as the infamous 2015 storm, said Rocco Pelatti, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Spokane office.

During the peak of the 2015 storm, about 35 times as many Inland Northwest households lost power as did during the peak Tuesday night.

Pelatti said during that storm, which led to blacked-out neighborhoods, many people, including him, lost garbage cans and lawn furniture.

“It disappeared; I have no idea where it went,” he said.

Avista said in a statement Monday evening it prepared to quickly restore outages. Inland Power announced via Twitter on Tuesday evening that power would return to its customers by 11:30 p.m. .

“Restoring power to our customers as quickly and safely as possible is our top priority,” said David Howell, Avista’s director of operations. “If outages do occur, we will work around the clock until all customers are returned to service.”

Until the storm passed, Avista said it would not likely have estimated power restoration times. It could take 24 hours or more to complete assessments, depending on the extent of the damage, Avista said in an email to customers.

Boggs, who lost power at around 5:45 p.m., said Avista personnel told her it would be about 9 p.m. when she’d get power back.

By 8 p.m., winds were slowing, Van Horn said.

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