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Winter Finally Arrives Snow Slickens Roads, Causing At Least 19 Accidents

A winter storm blanketed the Inland Northwest with snow Saturday, snarling traffic and giving ski areas a much needed boost.

Roads slickened by the snow, which started falling about 9 a.m., caused 29 minor accidents around Spokane County by late Saturday, the Washington State Patrol reported.

In Idaho, police also fielded reports of fender-benders.

“In the past, on the first day of snow, generally we don’t have a lot of accidents … ,” said Coeur d’Alene Police Lt. Dean McMillan. “Usually after that is when they start getting crazy.”

The snow actually proved helpful for Kootenai County sheriff’s deputies. They used footprints in the snow to track down a suspected car thief from Spirit Lake after he tried to flee on foot.

“They’ve been predicting this (snow) for a while. Maybe everybody was psychologically ready for it,” said WSP Sgt. Chris Powell.

Also helpful was that the storm hit on a Saturday, and not in the middle of a weekday rush hour, Powell said.

In Spokane, an accident on Government Way that injured four people - though none seriously - was the most severe.

In that accident, Chin H. Han reached to adjust the heat in her 1991 Ford Explorer, lost control and slammed into a pine tree.

One of Han’s passengers, 12-year-old Steven Himes, broke his right leg and was taken to Deaconess Medical Center. Han and two other passengers were also treated at local hospitals for minor injuries and released.

A two-car accident also blocked U.S. Highway 395 south of Deer Park for a while Saturday evening.

Though drivers cursed the snow, skiers welcomed it.

In Idaho, snow fell all day on ecstatic skiers and snowboarders at Lookout Pass and Silver Mountain ski areas.

Silver got at least three inches of new snow by early afternoon, but “we’re supplementing Mother Nature with our snow machines,” said Silver Mountain general manager Terry Turnbow.

Despite Saturday’s storm, Mt. Spokane Ski Area, 49 Degrees North and Schweitzer Mountain Resort remained closed.

By the end of the day, only a foot of snow was atop the mountain at 49 Degrees North at Chewelah. Officials there expect to open Friday.

Larry Sossaman, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said the snow will likely turn to freezing rain today, as temperatures climb into the upper 30s.

Saturday’s high was 24 degrees, Sossaman said.

There’s a 70 percent chance of rain today.

Freezing rain made a mess of highways around Puget Sound on Saturday. At one point all three freeways in northwestern Washington - interstates 5, 405 and 90 - were closed because of icy conditions and accidents, said Troy McCallister, dispatch supervisor for the Washington State Patrol in Bellevue.

Dozens of fender-benders and collisions were reported.

The interstates all had reopened by noon.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Photos (1 color)

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Brian Coddington and Susan Drumheller Staff writers Staff writer Bonnie Harris contributed to this report.