Microburst: A Scary Weather Anomaly

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On Sunday, after a wonderful visit with George and Linda in Colville, WA, we continued on our journey to Montana. Advised by George of some memorable kayaking in northern Idaho, we headed directly to Beaver Creek campground located north of Sandpoint that provides easy access to the wonderful canoe trail to Upper Priest Lake.

The next morning, we dealt with some housekeeping and spent the entire day troubleshooting our annoying propane leak that evidently we’re the only ones who can smell it. We fortunately located an RV service center in Sandpoint, ID, and made a day of it. We returned to our campground in the evening as rain began to fall. It escalated into a serious tempest that pelted our camper with torrential rain, severe winds and thunder that blasted right above us. We’d fared well in similar storms, however, and relished the excitement.

priest_passageThe next day, Tuesday, was gorgeous and we kayaked 5 miles via the lovely passageway to Upper Priest Lake and swam in luxuriously comfortable water at a secluded beach. Our attempt to lunch while basking in the sun was trumped by the ubiquitous yellow jackets we’d experienced throughout this leg of our journey. So into the middle of the lake we paddled, away from the pesty critters, and floated in our wonderful inflatable kayak, feasting on tinned sardines and bell peppers. The paddle home was into a headwind nearly the entire way, and we appreciated the fact that there are two of us paddling!

Wednesday found us revisiting Upper Priest Lake, but this time on bikes following the “Navigation” trail originating from the campground. This 3-mile ride was one of our best ever, reminding us of a similar ride near Comox, BC, with Rick and Julie. What diminished the trip were the multiple downed trees across the trail that required some serious lifting up and over. One cluster of trees was piled over four feet high that made a strong case for lightweight trail bikes. Overall, we enjoyed our second visit to the pristine lake and snacked at Plowboy campground, a perfect destination for an easy backpack or canoe camping experience.

A real shock awaited us at our campground. Park rangers and local Sheriffs decided to close Beaver Creek due to the danger of potentially lethal “blowdowns.” They explained the area was unstable and that there had been a tragic microburst north of us that killed a camper when a 200-foot-tall tree uprooted and fell on his tent at the Stagger Inn primitive campground at the Roosevelt Grove of Ancient Cedars in Pend Oreille County just west of the Idaho state line. We learned that when a microburst (AKA micro blast, downburst) occurs, the storm cell collapses and sends winds directly to the ground, much like pouring water from a bucket only at a 100 mph.  When it hits the ground, it has to go somewhere, so it just spreads out in a ferocious fan with devastating consequences.

That storm may have been an adventure but it also introduced us to another important component about unpredictable weather systems. Intrepid travelers we are and banished from our campsite, we headed south to Sandpoint, ID, and found Springy Point campground on Lake Pend Oreille that served us well for a night. All we had to deal with there was traffic noise and the occasional freight.