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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Weathercatch: Midwest-like wintry weather swallowed us five years ago this month

A pedestrian makes his way across the unplowed intersection of Riverside Avenue and Washington Street in downtown Spokane on Jan. 9, 2017.  (COLIN MULVANY/The Spokesman-Review)
A pedestrian makes his way across the unplowed intersection of Riverside Avenue and Washington Street in downtown Spokane on Jan. 9, 2017. (COLIN MULVANY/The Spokesman-Review)
By Nic Loyd and Linda Weiford For The Spokesman-Review

The Inland Northwest got walloped by frigid temperatures, heavy snowfall and winds. Next came a sudden rise in temperatures, freezing rain and snowmelt. Sounds like the weather this January, doesn’t it? But no, we’re referring to January 2017.

Although January 2022 so far has produced similar types of conditions, they were far more extreme five years ago this month. If you were here, you probably remember.

The weather drama began unfolding on New Year’s Day when cold air arrived from the Arctic and stayed for nearly a week. The overnight low on Jan. 4, 5 and 7 dropped to minus 3 degrees in Spokane. In the town of Republic, it plunged to minus 16. Not only was the weather very cold, but it was also unusually windy. Wind gusts up to 35 mph sculpted snowdrifts that crested along roadsides and across fields. The windiness spurred the National Weather Service in Spokane to issue a wind chill advisory, a wintertime alert that’s seldom issued in this part of the country and more common in the Northern Plains. On top of the wind and cold, it also snowed. Nearly 6 inches fell between Jan. 7 and Jan. 9. A total of 10 inches was recorded on the ground at Spokane International Airport on Jan. 9. With subzero temperatures, gusty winds and knee-high snowdrifts, our region looked and felt more like North Dakota.

Following a brief respite of calmer weather, a second blast of arctic air gripped the region Jan. 11-17. The mercury plunged to minus 4 degrees on Jan. 12 and 14. We haven’t seen temperatures that cold since then.

After conditions began to warm, a freezing rain storm struck the Spokane and Coeur d’Alene areas on the night of Jan. 17, leaving an icy sheen on sidewalks, roads and even the runway at Spokane International Airport, where flights had to be canceled or diverted to other airports.

On Jan. 19, temperatures turned March-like for five days, with daytime highs reaching the mid-40s. The resulting rapid thaw of ice and snow produced localized flooding of streets and a slushy mess for motorists and pedestrians to navigate.

Despite the warm-up, the month concluded as the fourth coldest January recorded in Spokane.

Yes, this January has seen cold temperatures, impressive winds, drifting snow, freezing rain, icy streets and a big snowmelt, but it pales by comparison to January 2017. Fortunately, no significant storms are predicted between now and the end of the month, which is just 11 days away.

The dense fog that settled over Spokane last weekend eased into foggy patches by Monday of this week, followed by a light wintry mix. As temperatures warm up into the low 40s today, we can probably expect a round of rain. Then, a building ridge of high pressure should bring dry and partly sunny conditions across the Inland Northwest through the weekend. For now, the pattern shift is expected to keep conditions uneventful throughout the rest of the month.

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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