Several readers have contacted us this spring to ask if Spokane is getting windier. Citing both windstorms and consecutive days of windy conditions, they said the weather seems more blustery.
Yes, the upper atmosphere has been amped up in 2022. We’ve experienced days with robust breezes, persistent winds and strong gusts. It began in early January, when a storm system packing gusty winds tracked across Eastern Washington and North Idaho. On Jan. 7, gusts that consistently blew between 35-40 mph topped out at 48 mph in Spokane and 58 mph in the Pullman-Moscow area. Winds grew strong enough to blow a semitruck on its side about 5 miles south of Pullman. After the storm passed, breezy conditions stuck around for the next few days.
In terms of impact, fresh on our minds is the windstorm that barged across the Inland Northwest on April 4. Nearly 12,000 customers were left without power in Spokane County and parts of North Idaho when gusts as high as 60 mph brought down trees and power lines. That night and into the next day, winds weakened but didn’t stop, with pestering gusts running 25 to 30 mph.
Wind gusts reaching 30 mph or higher have been recorded 13 days so far this year, 10 of them during March and April. We’ve also experienced plenty of days when 15-25 mph winds blew in fits and starts. So yes, we’ve seen a lot of blustery weather during the past two months, but no more than usual for this time of year. After all, it’s peak wind season in the Inland Northwest.
Looking at the past decade, however, it’s easy to see why people wonder if the Spokane area is windier than it used to be. Most memorable is the 2015 monster windstorm that roared through on Nov. 17, 2015, packing gusts up to 71 mph. Two people were killed and more than 250,000 customers were left without power – some for nearly a week. Then, six years later, the region recorded another historic wind event on Jan. 13, 2021. Although considerably shorter in duration than the 2015 storm, it unloaded plenty of fury. Once again, gusts reached up to 71 mph at Spokane International Airport. Once again, two people were killed and thousands lost power.
We’ve experienced some walloping winds over the past 10 years, to be sure. But after examining wind data, there’s not enough evidence to suggest that it’s part of a long-term trend. Our region experienced clusters of atmospheric brawls amid plenty of long, calm intervals, just as it has for the past 100 years. For example, the Columbus Day storm of 1962 is the most violent windstorm to strike the Pacific Northwest in the 20th century. Nicknamed the “Big Blow,” the Oct. 12 event killed 46 people in Western Washington and Oregon and destroyed thousands of buildings. Damaging winds swept eastward as far inland as Spokane. Where 110 mph gusts clobbered the coast, parts of the Inland Northwest received gusts up to 70 mph.
As for today, if you’re tired of riding your bike into headwinds or clutching your hat while crossing the street, those long, calm intervals we talked about are coming soon. The windy season typically ends by June 1. Afterward, we’ll still get hit with occasional bursts of strong winds, but they’ll mostly be associated with summertime storms instead of cold fronts, atmospheric rivers and lingering frigid air masses from the north. Unlike Laramie, Wyoming, any big winds that arrive in our region won’t stick around for long.
Nic Loyd is a meteorologist in Washington state. Linda Weiford is a writer in Moscow, Idaho, who’s also a weather geek. Contact: email@example.com.
This story has been updated to correct the date of the 2021 windstorm.
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