Storm knocks out power to thousands on the West Plains
An intense, fast moving, thunderstorm roared through the Eastern Washington-North Idaho region late Sunday evening, with winds and lightning strikes knocking out power transmission and plunging much of the West Plains past the Geiger exit into darkness.
According to the National Weather Service, about one-third of an inch of rain fell on the area in a short period of time Sunday evening, with wind gusts jumping from near zero just after 8 p.m. to around 50 mph within the span of about 10 minutes, with gusts topping out at 61 mph.
Joe Noland, Cheney Light Department director, said the city has about 4,500 metered customers this time of the year, and most of these lost power beginning around 8:30 p.m. Sunday evening. The city purchases its power from the Bonneville Power Administration, but through a transfer agreement with BPA and Avista Utilities, Avista transmission lines carry that power to city substations.
Noland said the storm knocked out the entire transmission from Avista. Noland suspects the line opened because a tree fell on it, but couldn’t confirm that with the Spokane-based utility.
“They switched our transmission source around where they think they have a bad spot, but have not had a crew out to look at it,” Noland said in an email Monday afternoon.
Cheney and Eastern Washington University were without power for about two and a half hours, but once the transmission source was switched that power was restored to everyone except one customer who had a tree fall through his home’s service, rendering it unsafe to energize.
“Other than that we had no downed power lines, although there were a number of trees around town that received damage,” Noland said.
Avista spokesperson Debbie Simock said approximately 2,500 West Plains customers lost power around the same time Cheney went dark. There were numerous problems from wind-downed lines and fuses blown out by lightning strikes.
“All of that resulted in damaged equipment,” Simock said.
In Medical Lake the storm knocked down several power poles, which required not only replacement but replacing of the equipment on them as well, taking 6-8 hours.
Simock said that with the exception of a customer or two, Avista’s power to the West Plains had been restored by 3:30 a.m. Tuesday morning.
According to information on Inland Power and Light’s website, outages in the area took place in increments beginning at 8:09 p.m. with 656 customers in the Cheney, Reardan, Edwall, Sprague and Rosalia areas. Another 781 were knocked out at 8:12 p.m. in Cheney, Medical Lake, Mead and Reardan, with 836 losing power at 8:28 in Cheney and Spokane followed by 1,328 about six minutes later in Cheney, Airway Heights, Medical Lake, Fairchild Air Force Base and Spokane. Inland Power communications specialist Jennifer Lutz said some of these reported outages were likely duplicates.
The cause cited was a BPA-Avista transmission line, with most of the customers’ power restored by 11:15 p.m., although other outages in the area were recorded throughout the night due to downed trees, power lines and weather.
“All members were restored as of 3 a.m. this morning (Aug. 27) and most of our outages were located in Northern Spokane,” Lutz wrote in an email.
John McCallum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.