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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Weathercatch: Winds and a late gasp of winter dominate April’s first half

A flowering forsythia shrub covered in snow on April 10 in Thornton, 40 miles south of Spokane. Areas south and east of Spokane recorded April snowfall totals that flirted with records, and the region has seen temperatures well below their normal values.   (Courtesy of Lea Cuffe-Ludington)
A flowering forsythia shrub covered in snow on April 10 in Thornton, 40 miles south of Spokane. Areas south and east of Spokane recorded April snowfall totals that flirted with records, and the region has seen temperatures well below their normal values.  (Courtesy of Lea Cuffe-Ludington)
By Nic Loyd and Linda Weiford For The Spokesman-Review

The first half of April didn’t display the best of spring weather in our region. Mother Nature huffed and puffed and smacked us with a big winter comeback.

It began on April 4, when powerful winds raked the Inland Northwest. The storm, which began that morning, unleashed strong and lasting winds. Spokane International Airport reported sustained winds of over 40 mph from 1 to 5 p.m., with gusts reaching 60 mph. Winds of more than 20 mph continued into Tuesday evening.

The intensity and duration of the windstorm toppled trees and knocked out power to nearly 12,000 customers in the Spokane and North Idaho area. High winds also kicked up dust that reduced visibility along several highways in Eastern Washington.

Ordinarily, winds this time of year are more short-lived. The intense storm was caused by a strong jet stream that drove a cold front across our region. At the same time, a low pressure system crossing British Columbia created a strong pressure gradient. The result was a powerful clash between a lingering cold air mass of winter and a warm air mass of spring.

After a brief period of calm conditions and milder temperatures during the next two days, winds generated by a separate weather system hit our region on Friday and Saturday of last weekend. Windy conditions, while less powerful than the April 4 windstorm, delivered a noticeable chill to the air with temperatures running about 10 degrees below normal.

Then came Sunday and Monday of this week. At a time of year when tulips and daffodils begin making their appearances, parts of Washington and Oregon were plastered with wet, wet heavy snow. The winterlike pattern was caused by yet another turbulent system that pushed into the Pacific Northwest from near the Gulf of Alaska overnight on Sunday. As a strong cold front moved west to east and pooled moisture with it, 1-3 inches of snow fell across southeast Washington and the southern Idaho Panhandle from early Sunday morning into late afternoon. In Spokane, the high temperature barely made it past 40 degrees and the low dipped to 25 degrees. Normal temperatures for that date are a high of 58 degrees and a low of 36.

On Monday, another round of cold air, snow and gusty winds swept across Washington and Oregon. The system dumped 3-4 inches on the Palouse. Motorists in Genesee, Idaho, probably regretted having their snow tires removed when 2-3 inches fell in just two hours that morning, according to the National Weather Service. The Tri-Cities set a late-season snow record after 2 inches of snow covered the ground by midmorning.

Meanwhile, residents of Portland awoke to a rare blanket of snow – the city’s latest snowfall on record. Although Spokane and Coeur d’Alene received small amounts of snow, they got persistent robust breezes and pestering wind gusts. The National Weather Service Spokane issued a wind advisory until 11 p.m. Monday and sure enough, winds gusted to 39 mph by 12:30 p.m. And talk about chilly. Highs ran in the low 40s and the lows in the mid 20s through Tuesday.

As we head into the second half of April, winter could have a few more tricks up its sleeve. More unstable weather events may be on tap for the Pacific Northwest as warm and cold air masses continue to clash and below-average temperatures prevail, according to the spring outlook by NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. For now, more seasonable conditions are expected across the Inland Northwest this weekend, with a chance of rain on Saturday and temperatures inching upward Sunday and Monday.

Nic Loyd is a meteorologist in Washington state. Linda Weiford is a writer in Moscow, Idaho, who’s also a weather geek. Contact: ldweiford@gmail.com.

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