2015 Spokane Windstorm: aftermath and next steps

A downed ponderosa pine in Spokane results in power outage and street closure. Photo by Jim Flott
A downed ponderosa pine in Spokane results in power outage and street closure. Photo by Jim Flott

The windstorm that impacted Spokane and the surrounding region on Tuesday, November 17, 2015, will go down in the record books. Winds gusted up to 71 miles per hour in Spokane according to AccuWeather.com. The Greater Spokane Department of Emergency Management issued a “Shelter in Place” bulletin around 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday. Two people in Spokane were killed in separate incidents involving trees being thrown in the wind.  Governor Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency the next day.

The wind was responsible for about 70 percent of Avista (the largest regional electrical utility) customers losing power at some point during the storm. Avista officials said this was the largest outage in company history surpassing the ice storm of 1996. Parts of Spokane looked like a war zone with trees lying in the roads and on buildings. The damage was severe enough to keep some schools and businesses closed until after Thanksgiving.

Angel Spell, Spokane Urban Forester, reported to the Spokane Tree Committee that an estimated 1,900 trees managed by the City were lost, 500 of those were in parks, the rest were on rights-of-way and other city owned property. The appraised value for these trees was approximately $22 million.

At a time like this, a tree professional’s thoughts first go to removing any risk associated with trees as a result of the windstorm and cleaning up the mess. Then, a true professional will try to convince people that healthy, structurally sound trees should not be removed as a knee jerk reaction to the storm.

Jim Flott, local consulting arborist said “Wind speed was the only quantifiable variable.” He observed that soil failures were responsible for a majority of downed trees. He is encouraging people not to overreact and to have their trees assessed by a qualified ISA Arborist with tree risk assessment experience. Flott also promotes a positive message about trees going forward, referring to the fact that only a very small fraction of the tree population failed and that vast majority of the tree population withstood the test of the storm.

A Wind Storm Workshop is planned for March 11 at the Spokane Conservation District.  Representatives from Avista, the City of Spokane, commercial arborists, Washington DNR, and consulting arborists will summarize impacts from the storm and discuss best practices moving forward.  You can register for the event at www.spokaneconservation.org.

For additional information about this storm, be sure to check out this article published by the Spokesman-Review on December 25, 2015.

This article written and submitted by Garth Davis, Forestry Program Manager, Spokane Conservation District.

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