Windstorm wallops Bonner County

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A tree on Third Avenue near Larch Street sits buried by the branches of a pine tree after strong winds on Saturday knocked the tree down in the early afternoon. (Photo courtesy WYATT RUMSHOTTEL)

SANDPOINT — Strong winds knocked down trees throughout the county, closing several roads for a period of time.

In addition, a slide shut down a portion of East River Road, according to Bonner County Sheriff’s Office officials.

Bonner Dispatch received more than 60 calls Saturday, roughly 70 percent of which were weather related, Capt. Tim Hemphill said. Despite the large volume of calls, the county only saw two wind-related closures — one in the area of Colburn Culver and Pinecone roads and the other at the west end of Wrenco Loop Road near Highway 2.

Winds downed a power line in the Colburn Culver area with a Nixle alert sent out about 1:45 p.m. advising responders were on scene and requesting residents avoid the area. The road was reopened about 90 minutes later at roughly 3:30 p.m. In the Wrenco Loop area near Highway 2, winds knocked down both power lines and trees, prompting county officials to send out a Nixle alert about 2 p.m. asking residents to avoid the area.

A third road closure, this one on East River Road was caused by a washout in the area. Residents report the road had dropped about 4 inches overnight. Mudslides and washouts aren’t uncommon in the area, with the road closed by one or the other several times in the past several years.

County officials said in 2018 that they are working toward construction on the East River Road area to repair the area but repairs could be several years away. The hillside in the 6400 block of East River is unstable and as the ground begins to thaw each spring, it causes a road slump that results in traffic being detoured to East River Loop.

In the city of Sandpoint, a tree on Third Avenue behind Safeway near Larch was toppled by the winds about 1 p.m. with branches from a large pine burying a car and the trunk blocking the roadway until city crews were able to clear the roadway.

At Schweitzer Mountain, the winds at the summit topped 80 mph, ski resort officials reported in a tweet. Several trees — and the sign at the top of the Lakeview Triple lift, were topped by the winds.

“We’re hoping Mother Nature decides to play a little nicer with us tomorrow [Sunday],” they said in the post.

While Avista Utilities responded to a handful of power outages in the county, Northern Lights, Inc. crews responded to roughly 80 outages throughout its coverage area with as many 4,400 customers initially impacted between North Idaho and western Montana. Avista reported about 6 outages in the county with 500-600 customers affected.

Strong winds across its service area were causing the outage problems, NLI officials posted at the top of its website.

“All available personnel have been dispatched, and we appreciate your patience as our line crews work to restore everyone’s power in the safest and quickest manner possible,” they said in the post.

National Weather Service in Spokane issued a wind advisory Saturday morning, warning residents in the area that southwest winds of 20-30 mph were expected throughout the day before tapering off about 6 p.m. Gusts in exposed valleys could reach 45 mph with gusts of 50-60 mph expected in the mountains.

The area impacted by the windstorm ranged from the northeast mountains in Washington state, particularly in the Deer Park area and east of Colville, and the mountains in North Idaho and northcentral Idaho.

The strongest wind gusts were predicted over the exposed terrain especially on the ridges, peaking by midday and gradually decreasing by late afternoon.

Caroline Lobsinger can be reached by email at and follow her on Twitter @CarolDailyBee.

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