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Old 02-01-2019, 05:59 PM
 
Location: Old Mother Idaho
27,461 posts, read 18,918,086 times
Reputation: 21533

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Polar vortexes are like winter hurricanes. When the conditions are just right, a vortex can begin rotating rapidly and then becomes unstable, gathering strength as it goes.

Just like our oceans are always full of water, there are always 2 polar vortexes spinning over our planet's poles year round, constantly. They are caused by the earth's rotation, and they suck the cold high air from the Earth's upper atmosphere downward, acting as huge refrigeration units for our planet.

When warm ocean currents start to move rapidly northward, bringing high air moisture with them, the vortex feeds the moisture into it and begins to grow. Like a Cat. 5 hurricane, once the growth begins, it will continue until the vortex de-stabilizes and starts to move southward. In some instances this can happen very quickly, and in others, the growth can be well observed.

A huge vortex formed very quickly in the winter of 1989 and plowed straight down to hit Idaho 30 years ago today. The closest spot to the center was Clark County, just south of the Idaho-Montana border, south of the Monida Pass on I-15.

The storm came in at sundown and lasted for 4 days. At it's worst, the wind chill temps were measured at 101 below zero. The wind gusts were as strong as 80 mph, while the air temperature was hovering around -20 to -30 degrees.

Clark County is very lightly populated. It's mostly ranch country, with far more livestock than people living in it. The county seat, Dubois, only has a population of about 600 people, and it's the largest city in the county. The other towns, Spencer and Kilgore are even smaller. Dubois is 50 miles north of Idaho Falls.

The vortex was so concentrated that Idaho Falls only got a big, strong blizzard. Dubois got frozen hell. After the storm let up, snowdrifts were as high as 15 feet, frozen hard as concrete. During the storm, the snow and winds were so heavy visibility was only 6 feet or less.

Thankfully, there was no loss of human life, though one young woman went into labor with her first child, and was able to leave her remote home with the help of a snowplow, an ambulance, and a lot of dedicated people.

She delivered her baby safely at the hospital in Idaho Falls. Luckily. She went into labor before the full strength of the storm hit, and she was the only county resident to get out until after the storm was over. Several families were trapped inside their homes for up to 5 days until folks from outside were able to tunnel an opening to escape through the hard-packed snowdrifts.

The power lines were never broken, so everyone still had electricity, another life saver. Several folks ran out of fuel for their stoves and furnaces though.
Rescuers found one man, a hired hand who lived alone in a small trailer, on his bed with every article of clothing and other insulation he could find piled around him to keep warm.

The livestock weren't lucky at all. The cold was so severe cattle, horses and sheep were found frozen solid standing up. Their lungs had burst from the cold air, and their eyes, noses, and mouths were covered in masks of hard ice that smothered them. Others were found clustered densely, all buried in snow.

800 cattle, 2,000 sheep and a huge number of uncounted elk, deer, and other wildlife died. It was months before all the carcasses were finally disposed of.

The losses amounted to about $1.7 million dollars in today's money, and Clark County was declared a Disaster Area for several months.
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Old 02-01-2019, 09:14 PM
 
Location: WA Desert, Seattle native
8,555 posts, read 6,478,754 times
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Great history there, Banjo. I think these events are certainly more common east of Idaho, but thanks for reminding us that they can occur further west at times.

Even this coming week we will be getting a "mini" cold spell, but not part of the polar vortex, and temps will get nowhere near zero in Idaho and Eastern Washington, but Western Montana could see a zero. Perhaps more a standard type of winter cold that is not uncommon in our region.

Forecast Highs/Lows for Wednesday 2/6:

Idaho Falls: 22-5
Missoula: 17-0
Boise: 35-16
Spokane: 23-9
Tri-Cities: 31-18
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Old 02-01-2019, 09:47 PM
 
Location: Old Mother Idaho
27,461 posts, read 18,918,086 times
Reputation: 21533
Yup. Those temps are typical of the season. I think Idaho has been lucky so far this winter, but it isn't over yet. I hope we have dodged the extremes, and I expect a few more of them will come before its spring.

One thing I'm grateful for is I feel prepared almost always for cold weather, as are most of us who have lived in Idaho for a while. We know what to expect more than folks in other places and so we're usually more comfortable and at ease in the cold.

I always feel sorry for all my southern friends who get blizted by a bad cold snap and snowstorms. The recent polar storms must have caused a lot of real solid misery for them.
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