Are we seeing more wind events in the Inland Northwest?

SPOKANE, Wash. — It seems like 2021 has brought more wind events than usual. Is this a sign of some major change to our climate? We called on a few local experts to shed some light on the situation, including our own Kris Crocker.

Sunday’s storm was the third wind storm of the year, but it is important to take a step back and look at the big picture. In short, this may not all be too unusual.

“We’ve all noticed it seems more active,” said National Weather Service Meteorologist Jeffrey Cote.

If Sunday night was any indication, the wind seems to be one of Spokane’s most hated weather events. Downed trees, power outages and it seems like it is happening more than ever. The historical data, though, tells a different story.

“Our average wind speed has gone down a little bit,” Kris Crocker said. She took a deep dive into these details in her own article, here.

The Inland Northwest saw more peak wind events in the 1980s; that includes events with winds over 50 mph.

“We’ve had this cluster of catastrophic wind events here lately,” Crocker said.

There is no doubt locals remember the historic windstorm of 2015 and the large storm this past January. Each seemed unusual, but Sunday night’s storm was also a bit surprising.

READ: Windstorm 2021: More similar than different from the historic storm of 2015

“This event really can’t be connected with this one at all. Winds were coming from a different direction. Peak wind gusts were only 50 mph,” Crocker said.

But, the impacts from these storms were perhaps more impactful and memorable.

“Qualitatively, it seems like a lot. It’s been more intense, so it kind of sticks out in people’s minds,” Cote said.

The Inland Northwest’s famous ponderosa pines have caused a majority of the devastating impacts and they were already stressed from the last two big events.

“They’re much more susceptible to blow over and with that change in wind direction, it makes it even more so,” Crocker said.

Further, any kind of development is going to impact surface winds and the region has seen a lot of that recently.

“If you look at an Avista power outage map, you’ll notice that a lot of the power outages are in places that didn’t even have power before. This area is growing,” Crocker said.

It is easy to point to climate change as a cause of something like this, but Crocker explained, wildfires, droughts, and snow amounts are more directly related to that. She says what’s happening now is likely more of a coincidence.

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