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Snow knocks out power on West Plains - in October

Second unusually early cold weather pattern leaves impacts on cities, county


Last updated 10/17/2019 at 8:08am

John McCallum

Cheney street crews didn't need to post signs informing motorists that College Avenue was closed between 2nd and 5th streets – the downed tree branches clogging the street was information enough.

CHENEY – A freak October snowstorm knocked out power to over 4,000 electrical customers on the West Plains overnight last Tuesday/Wednesday, Oct. 8-9, resulting in school delays and closures throughout the county and downed tree limbs that in many cases are still lying on the ground.

Snow began falling around 11 p.m. Tuesday night, and by 12:30 a.m. most area electrical utilities were beginning to receive outage calls. When it was over, some areas in southwest Spokane County reported up to seven inches of accumulations and 4,351 customers were without power on the West Plains, according to reports by the Cheney Light Department, Avista Utilities and Inland Power and Light.

In Cheney, Light Department Director Steve Marx said approximately 1,400 customers were without power from 30 minutes to several hours. The areas most affected were around 1th Street, Elm Street, Fleming Lane and the Cheney-Spokane Road.

"We had five major location events that caused most of the outages and received approximately 200 reporting phone calls," Marx said in an email. "(There was) One broken pole, one pole fire and three separate locations with a large tree in the line."

Avista communications coordinator Kim Vollan said over 2,800 customers on the West Plains and Airway Heights were without power at the height of the storm. The utility's electrical system in the area sustained damage in 13 separate areas that contributed to the outages.

Inland Power and Light communications specialist Jennifer Lutz said 150 customers on the West Plains, including Medical Lake, had their power knocked out by the storm. Most of the outages for the utility, over 3,800 out of 42,000 meters, occurred north of Airway Heights in the Pinecrest area.

All three utilities reported most customers had their power restored by the end of the day on Wednesday, with some Avista customers out until Friday, Oct. 11. The utility had three crews working on the West Plains, while Marx said all five of Cheney's linemen were on duty beginning at 1 a.m. to about 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Both Cheney and Medical Lake school districts originally instituted a two-hour delayed start to the school day. But Cheney Schools Superintendent Rob Roettger said after consulting with officials throughout the district it was decided to use one of three allocated snow days and cancel school.

Roettger said there was concern about power to district facilities - although none lost power - as well as the fact that buses were simply not yet equipped with snow equipment such as chains.

"We decided to make it into a closure instead of a delay," Roettger said. "We decided to be safe and call school on Oct. 9, which is weird."

Most of the damage resulted from the timing of the storm - which hit when fall hasn't had a chance to claim leaves off trees.

"The weight of the snow and the leaves combined on the branches is too much for even a healthy tree to bear, often bending into or breaking off into the power lines," Marx said.

Cheney Public Works Director Todd Ableman said crews spent most of the day Wednesday clearing streets of downed branches, switching to parks later in the week. Some trees leaning over snapped back into place once the snow melted, he added, while others fell.

As an example of the amount of debris the storm left in its wake, Ableman said the large yard waste bin usually dumped once a day at the Utility Building had to be emptied three times on Saturday, Oct. 12.

"We're still digging out a little bit," he added. "We have plenty to grind."

John McCallum can be reached at


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