Massive Storm Knocks out Power to Thousands in North Idaho, Eastern Washington

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One of dozens of large trees downed in Sandpoint on Aug. 2, in this case damaging two houses. - TONY LEWIS VIA FACEBOOK
  • Tony Lewis via Facebook
  • One of dozens of large trees downed in Sandpoint on Aug. 2, in this case damaging two houses.

The Idaho Panhandle and parts of Eastern Washington were pummeled by high winds and violent thunderstorms over the weekend, causing widespread damage and leaving tens of thousands of customers without power in Avista Utilities' two-state service area.

Thunderstorms, with wind gusts reaching nearly 70 mph in some places, struck in the evening hours of Aug. 2, uprooting trees that damaged cars, buildings and power lines across the region. It was the second devastating storm to hit the area in the space of 10 days—an "unprecedented" occurrence, Avista spokeswoman Debbie Simock told the Coeur d'Alene Press

Neighbors, friends and in some cases total strangers brought out their chainsaws to help clear away trees downed in and around Sandpoint during the Aug. 2 storm. - TONY LEWIS VIA FACEBOOK
  • Tony Lewis via Facebook
  • Neighbors, friends and in some cases total strangers brought out their chainsaws to help clear away trees downed in and around Sandpoint during the Aug. 2 storm.

The Spokesman-Review reported this morning that as many as 48,000 Avista customers were out of power at the peak of the storm—about 10,000 more customers than lost service in the July 23 storm, according to the Press. Combined with outages in the Inland Power and Light , Northern Lights and Kootenai Electric Cooperative service areas, the total number of people without power reached more than 60,000 in the region on Saturday and Sunday.

As of Monday, Aug. 4, Avista reported about 6,000 people were still without power from the Spokane area to Sandpoint. Some customers, especially on the rugged eastern shore of Lake Pend Oreille, may have to wait until Thursday, Aug. 7, for restored service. Smaller utilities in the area reported a total of about 10,000 customers remained without power on Monday, mostly north of Spokane and in North Idaho.

The extent of property damage is unknown, though social media reports painted a picture of extensive destruction. Details on injuries are still sparse. The Spokesman on Aug. 3 reported that two people had to be extricated from their car after it was struck by a falling tree, and several brush fires were sparked on the Washington side of the border. The Press reported on Monday that rough waters on Lake Pend Oreille resulted in "an incident within an incident," when large swells stranded two boaters in the southern part of the lake and a rescue boat sent to assist also became inoperable due to waves reported at 6 to 8 feet high.


Video courtesy of Sandpoint resident Jj Forster Webb, who told Boise Weekly that the tree seen above "more than towered over our two-story house." According to Webb, the tree smashed a fence and brought down another nearby tree, but caused no additional damage. Examining the aftermath, Webb said the root system—as with many other trees in the Sandpoint area—was shallower than expected, due to the high water table.

"Because the water level is high, the roots never had to 'dig deep' for it," she said. "And so the shallow root system is to blame."