25th anniversary of the 1996 ice storm in Spokane

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On November 19, 1996, up to 1.5 inches of freezing rain fell in the Spokane area, covering trees, roads, buildings, vehicles and power lines.

SPOKANE, Washington – November 19, 1996 is a date that is likely frozen in the minds of many longtime residents of Spokane. Friday marks the twenty-fifth year since one of the region’s worst ice storms.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the day started with two to four inches of snow already on the ground across the city. Later that day, up to 1.5 inches of freezing rain fell in the area, covering trees, roads, buildings, vehicles and power lines.

The high temperature at Spokane International Airport was only 33 degrees and 1.24 inches of precipitation in the form of rain, freezing rain and drizzle, snow and fog. Freezing fog was also spotted in the area.

Trees have collapsed across the city under the weight of the ice, leaving more than half of Spokane’s residents without power. The mayor declared a state of emergency amid the widespread blackout.

One hundred thousand people across the county were without power three days after the storm, while 20,000 people were without power six days after, according to NOAA. Some residents were without power for up to two weeks after the storm.

In October 2019, tens of thousands of Spokane residents were left without power after about four inches of wet, heavy snow caused tree branches to break and fall on roads and power lines. Fallen tree branches also left some roads impassable.

Four people died in the 1996 ice storm in Spokane and Kootenai counties, and the damage was estimated at $ 22 million in 1996 dollars, NOAA said. The storm remains one of the worst on record in the region.

Ice storms are the result of freezing rain, which initially develops as snow well above the ground, according to the National Weather Service. When they fall, snowflakes pass through relatively warm air that is deep enough to melt them and fall as rain.

As the rain continues to fall, below-freezing temperatures just above the surface quickly cool the droplets. Once these cooled raindrops hit objects where temperatures are below freezing, they instantly freeze.

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