A snowstorm that hit the area late last Wednesday night and continued into Thursday, Jan. 6, dumped nine to 13 inches of snow in the Orofino area, depending on the location, making travel on the roads and highways difficult and treacherous. This was in addition to the previous accumulation of snow that had deposited six to 10 inches of snow in the valley. Early Thursday morning Sheriff Chris Goetz sent out a message through social media and KLER Radio, saying that county plows were out, but were unable to keep up, and he requested that anyone that did not need to travel stay home. Emergency Management Coordinator Don Gardner asked that people check on their family and friends.
There were multiple reports of downed trees along the highway and in other locations throughout the county, and power outages were also reported. Around 9 a.m. Thursday, according to Jeff Marshall, of Clearwater Power, the Ahsahka substation for Clearwater Power lost power from the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) transmission line, knocking out service to Ahsahka and customers across the Clearwater River that have their service. Marshall said the substation was working prior to the outage from BPA.
Most Orofino residents experiencing outages had an approximate 4 ½ hour power outage. There were also smaller Clearwater Power outages that kept customers without power longer as crews worked diligently on the problems. Some customers in the Weippe/Pierce area reported still not having power on Friday, Jan. 7.
Joint School District #171, including Orofino Junior/Senior High School, Timberline School, Peck Elementary School and Cavendish Elementary School, were closed on Thursday, and planned sports activities for Friday were canceled.
Downed trees and the threat of avalanches forced the closure of U.S. Highway 12 by the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD), between Kooskia and the Montana border on Thursday. The snowstorm triggered an avalanche that left more than two feet of snow. The avalanche near milepost 136 was more than 10 feet deep and 30-40 feet wide. Crews also had to clear smaller snow slides that had reached the highway.
In a news release, Jared Hopkins with ITD said that drivers should prepare for narrow lanes and patches of ice and snow. Avalanche specialists will continue to monitor the area through the winter. Megan Jahns, spokeswoman for the transportation department, said the area is a high risk for avalanches, so it has gates to close off the highway and weather stations in the mountains. There are many risk factors for avalanches, such as the topography, which features steep slopes along the road, and heavy, wet snow that falls all at once. Highway 12 is one of two corridors in the state that an avalanche crew monitors.
Around Orofino, temperatures warmed up Friday, along with rain throughout much of the day, leaving mounds of snow melting, with standing water and slush plaguing much of the area.
According to unconfirmed reports, a vehicle slid on black ice on Michigan Avenue, near Forest Loop, striking a water/fire hydrant Saturday night. Water and ice could be seen through the DMV Building’s parking lot early Sunday morning, with the water reportedly running all the way through the mobile home park area at Carney Drive following the accident. City crews were out Saturday night repairing the damage.
When asked about the threat of flooding from Thursday’s snowstorm, according to Don Gardner, “Provided that the snow melts during the day and freezes more at night and comes off slowly with no other big storms we should have no major flooding problems. Our worst month for flooding is February, like in 1996, we had a storm similar to this in late January and February and then a warm 70 degree Pineapple Express rain on top of it causing the big flood of ‘96. As of right now the best thing anyone can do is make sure that the drains around their property are working. We will continue to monitor the situation.”