Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Itís raining mud

Storm brings streaks to vehicles, windows

Express Staff Writer

Cars line up outside the Valley Car Wash in Hailey on Sunday morning as residents attempt to remove the streaky remnants of Saturday nightís dirty storm from their vehicles. A weather expert said the streaks were the result of dust picked up across several Western states and dropped on the valley during the weekend rainstorm. Photo by Willy Cook

Last weekend's storm system brought high water and some localized runoff to the Wood River Valley, but it also brought mysterious mud and streaking to cars and windows throughout Blaine County.

Rick Dittmann, meteorologist in charge with the National Weather Service in Pocatello, said the streaking was caused by dust kicked up across a number of Western states and dropped with a rainstorm on Saturday night.

"It was so windy across so large a geographic area—Nevada, East Oregon, Idaho," he said. "The storm was generating rainfall and it was generating dust from the strong winds."

Dittmann said the winds preceded a storm front that dropped roughly an inch of rain on the valley on Saturday, ushering in a cold front mid evening on Sunday.

Dittmann said the event was not particularly unusual—in fact, earlier this winter winds associated with a snowstorm similarly kicked up dust and dropped it, with the snow, on the valley.

"People were saying, 'Man, that was dirty snow that fell,'" he said.

He said this past set of strong winds caused dust to build up all through Southern Idaho. In Twin Falls and Pocatello, disturbed dust caused skies to look overcast despite the lack of clouds.

"That was all in blowing dust," he said. "You could taste the grit."

Managers of local car washes said they saw an increase in business as county residents tried to get the gritty streaks off of their cars on Sunday. Lee Dabney, office manager for the Sun Valley Auto Club in Hailey, said the number of queries regarding the company's detailing services increased over the weekend.

"We have definitely had a number of people call and ask about it," she said. "It's just such a mess."

Judith Peak, co-owner of Bellevue car wash Splash & Dash, said that while her car wash generally only makes a few hundred dollars on car washes per weekend, her business skyrocketed on Sunday as people flocked to scrub the streaks off their vehicles.

"We had over $700 worth of car wash sales over the weekend," she said, which equates to just over 100 customers. "I don't know how many [we normally have], but it's nowhere near that."

The Big Wood River in Hailey did not reach the predicted 4 feet in gauge height over the weekend, but did reach 2.67 feet as a result of the storm. The East Fork of the Big Wood River at Gimlet, however, measured far higher, reaching 6.21 feet on Sunday.

Ketchum Fire Chief Mike Elle said that his department responded to two flooding calls on Saturday night, but that there was no damage in either case. The main cause of the standing water that callers reported was runoff from the hills, he said.

"It was the same kind of runoff they were getting in the south last month," he said. "It just moves up the valley over time."

Last month, Bellevue residents struggled to sandbag houses against runoff coming from Slaughterhouse Canyon east of downtown, which could not be absorbed by the frozen ground.

Though the rain ceased earlier this week, Dittmann said, the upcoming week may bring more surprises and unusual weather.

"You might call it strange, we just call it spring," he said. "We'd call it an active weather pattern. Roller coaster might describe it, and that's pretty much because we are in the way of these weather systems."

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