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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Hailstorm cuts a wide swath across Inland Northwest, left significant damage in its wake

By Molly Wisor, Mathew Callaghan </p><p>and James Hanlon The Spokesman-Review

Hail the size of golf balls and eggs pounded parts of the Inland Northwest on Thursday, pockmarking cars and shattering windows.

Liberty Lake, Otis Orchards and State Line were among the hardest-hit areas by Thursday’s storms, with 2-inch or egg-sized hail recorded. But heavy damage also was reported in Rockford and Cottonwood, Idaho.

The National Weather Service recorded the average size of hail at 1½ inches to 1¾ inches, the size of pingpong and golf balls.

“It’s not unusual to see hail or storms this time of year, but I don’t think we’ve seen hail this big since 2012,” said Laurie Nisbet, a National Weather Service meteorologist.

Parts of Idaho also were hit hard by Wednesday’s storms. Lenore in Nez Perce County recorded 0.77 inches of rain along with large hail.

JoAnn Swearingen, of Cottonwood, south of Lenore in Idaho County, was at work when the storms hit her house. She went home shortly after the storms let up.

“There was grain and canola crops, and they were beautiful when I went to work that morning,” she said. “When I came home, it looked like someone had taken a weed wacker and whacked down all the crops.”

Swearingen’s house wasn’t spared from the storms.

“When I went in the house, there were big shards of glass everywhere,” she said. “Pictures were knocked down. Golf-ball-sized hail was laying in my house. There was glass in the carpet, dirt everywhere.”

Swearingen’s daughter, Shauntell Funke, was in her own house outside Cottonwood with her daughters when the hail arrived. After hail shattered one of Funke’s living room windows, she and her daughters took shelter in her kitchen.

“I looked at my girls and said, ‘Get in the kitchen, get down, get down,’ ” she said. “We were all freaking out. It was really terrifying.”

Funke’s barn also suffered damage. One of her horses nearly succumbed to the storm.

“There was so much rain and hail that hit at once, that one of my horses got stuck in the mud and fought to get up so much that she lost energy,” she said. “My other two horses are covered in cuts and welts.”

Avista reported that more than 500 customers were still without power as of 8:45 a.m. Friday. Most of those were in the Rockford area.

Inland Power and Light reported more than 1,500 customers without power at one point, mostly south of Spokane Valley and in the Mica area.

In some cases, the hail was accompanied by little rainfall, with no precipitation recorded in gauges at either Felts Field or Liberty Lake, according to the weather service.

But some who experienced the storms reported a deluge of water.

“It was just pure awe. I heard a distant thunderclap. There was a few drops of rain and then it opened up,” said Tammie Fenn, who works at the Rockford Mini Mart. “It was a wall of water and you couldn’t even see across the street.”

Numerous Avista crews were in Rockford Thursday trying to restore power. Dozens of trees along the Rock Creek in Rockford were blown over, and trees were stacked along some streets after they had been cleared from the road.

Jack Kelley, insurance producer at Farmers Insurance Spokane, said his phone was “ringing back to back all morning” from clients who experienced damage to their cars and homes.

Jeff Shea, who owns Shea Insurance Agency, said he’s had clients report broken windows and damaged roofs from the hail.

“To the extent that we have clients in that area, that was heavy damage,” Shea said. “There’s a high amount of claims or high losses down there.”

As of 2 p.m. Friday, State Farm has received 254 auto claims and 124 claims for homes related to the storms, said Amy Harris, a spokesperson for State Farm. Harris said that in 2021 Washington ranked 42nd for hail claims, paying out just over $300,000 to Washington residents. Nationally, State Farm paid out $480 million in hail claims.

The Liberty Lake State Farm claims department expects over 1,000 auto claims and about 750 home claims.

Thursday’s hail storm damaged more than 30 trailers at RnR RV Center in Liberty Lake, while narrowly missing numerous luxury car dealerships a mile to the west.

The RV dealer was still assessing the damage on Friday. Golf-ball-sized hail left dings on the cheaper, aluminum-sided trailers, RnR general manager Jerry Wagner said. The more expensive fiberglass units withstood the pelting and no glass was broken.

Aluminum is more easily damaged, but also easier to repair, he said. The dealer plans to have a sale on the damaged units. The damage is purely cosmetic, Wagner said.

At Liberty Lake Golf Course, the hailstorm pummeled greens into divots, but maintenance crews were able to patch up the greens by rolling them, superintendent Todd Harper said.

Lightning activity was minimal in Thursday’s storms, with only 75 strikes recorded in Spokane County.

“There wasn’t as much lightning as we thought,” Nisbet said. “There were a lot of in-cloud strikes, not a lot of cloud-to-ground strikes.”

Storms are also expected to travel through Spokane County on Friday. These storms could bring severe lightning, heavy rain, hail and breezy wind.

“Right now, we have warnings all over Spokane county,” Nisbet said. “There’s not one area favored over another.”

Stormy conditions are expected to continue through Friday night, but the region is expected to have clear conditions by Saturday morning.

Reporter Julien Luebbers contributed to this article.