Region prepares for abrupt shift from mild winter to extreme cold
An Arctic air mass barreling into the Inland Northwest Thursday will force temperatures to the coldest levels seen so far this winter, posing a danger to people, pets and livestock.
Daily high temperatures in the region will climb only into low single digits this weekend, and there is a high probability lows will fall below zero across much of eastern Washington and north Idaho. Overnight lows that cold haven’t been recorded in the Spokane area since December 2022, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Greg Koch.
The leading edge of the cold air mass Thursday could produce light snowfall in eastern Washington and heavier totals (five to 10 inches) in Kootenai, Shoshone and Benewah counties in Idaho, NWS forecaster Steve Bodnar said.
The nadir of the cold for most communities comes Saturday, when morning lows may range from -12° at Bonner’s Ferry, to -5° in Coeur d’Alene, to -1° in Spokane. Afternoon highs in most communities are forecast to clock in at five degrees or lower, though the Weather Service cautioned precise temperature figures are not certain yet.
The air temperatures alone are significant enough to pose safety risks. Brisk winds won’t help. Potential wind chills early Saturday morning may be well below zero in Colville (-25°), Republic (-26°), Sandpoint (-31°) and many other locations in the Inland Northwest.
High temperatures are forecast to climb back into the teens by Tuesday, January 16.
Public health officials added their own advice for the days ahead, based on the Weather Service’s forecast.
"When the weather is extremely cold, and especially if there is additional wind chill, try to stay indoors," Spokane County Health Officer Dr. Francisco Velazquez said in a statement Wednesday. “To avoid hypothermia and frostbite, make any trips outside as brief as possible, and remember that by preparing for winter emergencies, the risks of weather-related health problems can be reduced.”
The Spokane Regional Health District said extreme cold can lead to health emergencies for vulnerable people, such as those without adequate heat or insulation, homeless people, and those who may become stranded outdoors or in vehicles.
Improper use of space heaters or other heating devices can introduce the risk of fire. Using generators indoors can create dangerous carbon monoxide levels, as can using gas stoves as a heat source, according to state poison control officials.
Spokane Mayor Lisa Brown said Wednesday she was finalizing the city’s extreme weather shelter plan and would brief the city council late Thursday morning.
Brown’s office said representatives of Spokane’s fire department and code enforcement arm inspected the former Cannon Street shelter, which was shuttered in May 2023. Heating, ventilation and plumbing were turned on, electrical systems were repaired, plywood was removed from windows and doors, the parking lot was cleaned up, and the roof was fixed.
Brown says the Cannon Street building will be used as an emergency nighttime shelter if the need for beds surpasses current availability. Spokane’s Neighborhood, Housing and Human Services Division was working with providers Wednesday to inventory capacity within the shelter system. The city was also working to find an operator for Cannon Street.
During daytime hours, Spokane public libraries will act as warming centers. Spokane Transit Authority buses will offer free rides to people who are traveling to warming centers but have no way to pay for a standard ride.