SPOKANE — Before leaves even turned color, a surprise October snow storm hit Spokane overnight, snapping branches that cut power to thousands of homes and forcing Spokane Public Schools to declare a snow day.
At the height of the storm, a steady crackle of branches snapping trees burdened with heavy snow echoed across neighborhoods with towering deciduous trees, sometimes accompanied by a flash of light when a branch took out a power line.
Avista Utilities reported 32,000 customers were without power by 3 a.m. By 6:45 a.m. outages had fallen to about 19,000 customers. Inland Power reported about 3,000 customers without power, most in Stevens County about 2 a.m.
Spokane Public Schools canceled classes Wednesday, citing power outages and blocked streets. Among other Spokane County School districts, Cheney Public Schools, and the Medical Lake, Reardan-Edwall, Nine Mile Falls and Orchard Prairie school districts announced classes would start two hours late.
The National Weather Service reported that 3.3 inches of snow fell at the Spokane International Airport by 1 a.m., breaking the daily snowfall record (daily weather measurements are taken at 1 a.m. during daylight saving time). The previous record was a trace in 1981.
Spokane police reported about 2 a.m. that numerous streets were blocked by branches and many traffic lights out. At 2:45 a.m., Grand Boulevard on the South Hill appeared impassable with branches covering the street for many blocks. But by 6 a.m. obstacles mostly were cleared.
Spokane Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer said the fire department received 120 calls for service as the snow began to bring down branches. Firefighters responded to several fires sparked by downed power lines, but as of 3 a.m. all had been put out quickly. Power was out all along the Division-Ruby corridor, he said.
As of 3 a.m., Schaeffer said he had not received any reports of significant injuries as a result of the storm.
He said people should stay away from downed power lines and keep away from trees weighed down by snow.
Three teams of firefighters were working to clear branches from streets overnight to keep emergency routes open.
“There’s measurable snow on the ground and trees in the roadway all over the place,” Schaeffer said.
Spokane police warned motorists to treat all intersections with stoplights not working as four-way stops.
While rare, snowfall amounts in October like what fell overnight are not unheard of in the Inland Northwest. Spokane’s record snow for an October day occurred Oct. 22, 1957, when 5.9 inches fell. Wednesday’s official snow fall likely will make it the second snowiest October day on record.