By Marcy Stamper and Ann McCreary
Residents face outages, hazardous driving — and cows
“You had weather!” said Greg Koch, a forecaster with National Weather Service (NWS) in Spokane.
The early November storm dumped almost 2 feet of snow in the Methow Valley from Sunday through Tuesday (Nov. 6 to 8), weighing down branches still laden with leaves after unseasonably warm weather well into October.
“This was a very impressive storm, not only for parts of the Methow Valley, but it produced very heavy snow in the Okanogan Valley as well,” Koch said.
Be a weather spotterThe National Weather Service (NWS) welcomes volunteer weather spotters and observers to assist with local weather and snow reports. NWS provides regular remote trainings in the spring and fall, including one on Nov. 14. If interested, go to weather.gov/spokane and follow the link to the weather-spotter training schedule.
The storm was atypical for several reasons. “Not only did it produce heavy amounts, but it was a very wet consistency throughout the duration of the storm, which is unusual. This was a steady state, with the surface temperature at or above freezing,” Koch said. Often during a snowstorm, a warm front comes in and turns the precipitation to rain, he said.
“The heaviest snow totals, by far, were over Okanogan County. It was a slow-moving front that just stalled over central Washington,” Koch said. “Having a stalled frontal boundary is a recipe for our heaviest snow events.”
All that snow meant lots of people were out in the wee hours dealing with the snow and its impacts. Utility crews were out around the clock starting Sunday morning, repairing power outages and downed powerlines. Workers for the towns of Twisp and Winthrop started clearing snow from town streets at 1 a.m. And Methow Valley School District Superintendent Tom Venable was out at 4 a.m. on Monday, driving the main roads in the valley to determine if safety concerns warranted a snow day (they did). Almost all the schools in Okanogan County were closed by the storm on Monday.
In addition to deep, wet snow and slick roads on his way to Mazama, Venable encountered another hazard — two black cows in the middle of the Highway 20.
Cows were also hanging around the cross-country ski trails, where the unexpectedly early grooming meant negotiating some issues, including cattle still grazing in areas where Methow Trails sets trails. “It caught people off guard. Yesterday I was out rounding up cattle with a snowcat,” Methow Trails Executive Director James DeSalvo said. He said Methow Trails is working with the cattle owners to get the livestock where they need to be.
Early ski season
This season is shaping up to be the earliest opening for Methow Trails in its 46-year history of grooming ski trails in the valley.
“This is unprecedented, having this much snow, this early, and such high-quality snow. It’s packing really well,” DeSalvo said. Conditions look promising for Methow Trails to open its ski trails officially as early as the end of this week.
Methow Trails reported 21 inches of snow on most of its trail network, and was grooming all areas, with the exception of Big Valley. DeSalvo said classic tracks will be set where conditions allow.
Loup Loup Ski Area had 23 inches of snow Tuesday morning and had begun packing runs, but needs more snow before the resort can open for skiing, said Brent Nourse, executive director.
He encouraged eager skiers to be patient and not attempt to ski at the Loup before it opens officially. Unless there is enough snow for an adequate base, skiing can interfere with the resort’s efforts to pack the runs, Nourse said.
Widespread power outages
“It’s been insanely busy,” said Sheila Corson, public relations coordinator for the Okanogan County Public Utility District (PUD). Several thousand PUD customers were affected by outages starting Sunday morning, Corson said. Crews worked all night long to check and repair the lines, and contractors were deployed to give the PUD technicians a chance to sleep, Corson said.
The Okanogan County Electric Co-operative (OCEC) in Winthrop agreed. “It has been a busy weather day, for sure,” said the staffer answering calls about outages.
OCEC and the PUD rely on their customers to notify them of outages and both have a 24-hour answering service to take reports.
Everyone in the OCEC service area got hammered, between plowing and electric and internet outages, OCEC General Manager Greg Mendonca said.
OCEC technicians were responding to outages throughout the valley all day Sunday and Monday. Most outages were localized, caused by heavy wet snow that weighed on branches and powerlines, causing them to touch. That triggered protection devices that work like circuit breakers and turn off power until a technician can make sure it’s safe to reenergize the line, Mendonca said.
The PUD has been dealing with downed and damaged powerlines, fiber-optic cables and phone lines, some sagging low enough that they get snagged by tall vehicles, Corson said.
People shouldn’t touch any line that’s dangling or on the ground, and should treat every wire as if it’s an electrified powerline, Corson said. Anyone who finds a dangling line should call the PUD or 911 and stay at least 35 feet away, she said.
Neither OCEC nor the PUD had a tally of outages yet, but Corson, who gets an email every time an outage is reported, said she’d received at least a thousand by Monday afternoon.
In Winthrop, because there’s nowhere in town to put the snow, crews have to pick it up and move the snow. The wet, heavy snow is hard on equipment, and the big loader they use to move the snow broke at 5:30 in the morning on Monday, halfway through the job, Winthrop Public Works Director Jeff Sarvis said. A contractor was scheduled to help while the loader was being repaired, Sarvis said.
Crews for the town of Twisp were working 12-hour shifts to clear streets — and plow again after more snow fell. The storm hit while Twisp was short staffed, with one person out because of a family emergency and a new hire still in the process, Twisp Mayor Soo Ing-Moody said.
The North Cascades Highway has been closed for the season. Closing the highway will allow Washington State Department of Transportation crews to focus resources on communities east of the pass, where considerable snow fell at lower elevations, North Central Region Communications Manager Lauren Loebsack said.
Forecast: cold, wet winter
The NWS had reports of 22 inches of snow about 4 miles north of Pateros, and 18 inches near Twisp on Monday, plus another half-dozen inches by Tuesday morning. The weather radar indicated the most significant precipitation was in the southern part of the Methow Valley and southern two-thirds of the Okanogan Valley.
The snow should stick around, because “there’s going to be a surge of cold air that comes down in the wake of this system,” Koch said. A dump of arctic air from Canada and Alaska will bring cold to much of the lower 48 states.
It will remain cooler than average through the middle to latter part of next week. High temperatures in the Methow will likely be in the 30s this week, with warmer temperatures by the middle of next week. Nighttime temperatures will be in the teens, or lower if the nights are clear. “It’s going to feel more like mid-December than mid-November,” Koch said.
This winter’s weather pattern is driven by a La Niña event. “The official winter outlook is for a 75% chance of La Niña lingering through the end of February. That correlates to a good shot of cooler-than-average winter temperatures, and frequently above-average precipitation, especially in the mountains,” Koch said.
People will have time to dig out after the early snowfall. “It looks like a week to 10 days before there’s another shot at precipitation,” Koch said.
“We still have a lot of winter in front of us. It seems like we were just starting fall,” Venable said.