National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce



Strong winds developed over eastern Washington and Northern Idaho on 02 Feb 1999. Wind speeds of 50 mph were common across many locations in Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho, with over 70 mph wind gusts recorded in Spokane. As a result, numerous trees and powerlines were toppled. In addition, structural damage to many homes and businesses was reported. KXLY news also reported 8000 to 10000 of AVISTA's customers were without power during the height of the wind storm. To gain an understanding of the cause and extent of the wind damage, an overview of model data, satellite data, and surface observations will be presented. In addition, reports of damage receieved by NWS Spokane will also be presented.




An upper level low was heading east into the coast of southern BC and shearing apart at 12 UTC 02 Feb 1999 (Fig. 1). Meanwhile 500 mb short wave trough was moving east toward western Washington. Strong 850 to 700 mb warm air advection over eastern Washington ahead of the short wave trough was producing snow from Spokane and Collville east into the Idaho Panhandle. The snow ended over the area by late morning as strong subsidence associated with the 500 mb short wave spread into the area. (Fig. 2).


A strong jet, with 250 mb winds in excess of 120 kts at 12 UTC, was situated to the south of the low over Washington. Once the shortwave trough moved through northeast Washington, the 250 mb jet increased to 160 knots (Fig. 3).


Wind speeds in the mid to low levels over Washington were also exceptionally strong with 850 mb wind speeds near 50 kts at 12 UTC (Fig. 4). The surface pressure gradient was also exceptionally tight as an area of low pressure moved southeast through British Columbia (Fig. 5).


Surface Conditions


Surface wind speeds over the east slopes of the Cascades began to increase considerably by late morning. Sedge Ridge RAWS reported a wind gust of 95 mph while Washington Pass Raws reported a wind gust to 55 mph. Wind gusts began to slacken off by early afternoon over the Cascades. Meanwhile, over eastern Washington wind speeds increased dramatically through early afternoon. By 2200 UTC, most locations over Eastern Washington reported wind gusts over 45 mph including Spokane Felts Feild (SFF) where a wind gust of 63 mph was recorded ( Table 1).

The stiff sustained winds were a result of a very tight pressure gradient. However, it is likely the higher wind gusts that caused most of the damage were a result of mid level winds accelerating down to the surface. One indication of this is a number of surface observations reporting rapidly a falling pressure, followed by a rapidly rising surface pressure, and then another rapidly falling surface pressure. Water Vapor imagery also indicates that this type of phenomena may be occuring (Fig. 6). Visible imagery also clearly shows the impact of subsidence associated with the short wave trough (Fig. 7).

Damage Reported


Wind damage over Douglas and Northern Grant County began to occur before noon and by early afternoon in Spokane and Coeur D'Alene. The most common type of damage was due to fallen trees and downed power lines. Power outages were reported in most towns across the Basin along with the Palouse and Spokane and Coeur D'Alene areas. Outages ranged from just a few hours in Lewiston to over 12 hours around Spokane and Coeur D'Alene. More serious types of damage such as blown off roofs and trees falling on structures were generally confined to Spokane and Coeur D'Alene areas ( Table 2). The fact that the ground was wet and soft from recent rain and snow along the Spokane River Valley likely aided in producing the large number of downed trees and power lines.



Table 1 - Maximum Surface Wind Speeds across KOTX CWA 
Values in red meet high wind criteria
Observations Maximum Wind Speed (kts) Time (UTC)
WA Zone 32/ ID Zone 26    
Lewiston (LWS) 40 Gust to 45 2153
Lewiston (LWS) 32 Gust to 56 2235
WA Zone 33/ ID Zone 03     
Pullman (PUW) 31 Gust to 54 2356
WA Zone 34    
Ephrata (EPH) 46 Gust to 63 1856
WA Zone 36/ ID Zone 02     
Spokane (GEG) 39 Gust to 47 1956
Spokane (GEG) 31 Gust to 53 2135
Spokane (SFF) 26 Gust to 63 2045
Otis Orchards (spotter) Gust to 73 2012
Coeur D'Alene (COE) 38 Gust to 61 2115
Foss Maritime (north side of Lake Coeur D'Alene) Gust to 67 mph 2235
WA Zone 37    
Deer Park (DEW) 31 Gust to 48 2053
WA Zone 38    
Nespelem (RAWS) 25 Gust to 45 mph 2054
WA Zone 42    
Washington Pass (RAWS) 26 Gust to 55 1957
Douglas Ingram (RAWS) 17 Gust to 35 2030
Leecher (RAWS) 20 Gust to 48 1954
NCSB (RAWS) 33 2058
First Butte (RAWS) 16 Gust to 34 1856
WA Zone 43    
Kramer (RAWS) 21 Gust to 37 mph 2056
WA Zone 43    
Douglas (RAWS) 26 Gust to 44 mph 2040
ID Zone 04    
Mullan Pass (MLP) Gust to 46 mph 0108
Other Observations    
Rattlesnake Ridge 82 Gust to 97 mph 2335
Grey Back (RAWS) Gust to 79 mph 1911
Sedge Ridge (RAWS) Gust to 95 mph 1721
Hanford (HMS) 41 Gust to 64 mph 2356

Table 2 - Reports of Wind Damage across KOTX CWA
Damage reports were not received in counties not included
Location of Damage Damage type Approximate Time
WA Zone 32/ ID Zone 27    
Lewiston/Clarkston Vicinity A few downed trees and breif power outages. Late Afternoon
WA Zone 33/ ID Zone 03    
Whitman County Many trees and Power lines downed.
A few blocked roads due to debris. 
Power outages of at least 10 hours.
Late Afternoon
WA Zone 34    
Grant County Entire roof blown off a mobile home near Ephrata.
Trees and Power Lines downed.
Late morning into early afternoon.
WA Zone 35    
Adams County Parts of roofs blown off buildings, mainly northeast sections of Adams County.
Late afternoon into early evening.
Lincoln County Shingles blown off roofs.
Metal roofs partially blown off barns and other structures.

Late morning into early afternoon.
WA Zone 36/ID Zone 02    
Spokane &
Coeur D'Alene
Parts of roofs blown off buildings.
Business signs blown apart.
Many traffic light poles were turned and caused to be facing the wrong direction. 
Numerous trees down, 2 known large trees blown onto homes. Numerous power lines down.
Power outages impacted over 8000 people, some for over 12 hours.
Roads blocked by debris, as many as 12 intersections at one time.

Noon into mid afternoon.
WA Zone 37    
Deer Park and vicinity A few trees downed into power lines.

Noon into mid afternoon.
By Don Moore