Motorists Skate On Thin Ice Freezing Rain Leads To Hundreds Of Accidents Throughout The Region, But No Serious Injuries
If auto-body workers and chiropractors have dream days, Sunday was one of them.
Freezing rain put a glossy finish on Saturday’s snow, making roads in Eastern Washington and North Idaho slicker than Teflon.
Driving was treacherous on all highways in the region, and hundreds of smashed or stranded cars littered shoulders anywhere there was a curve or a hill.
A sand truck contributed to the danger on Interstate 90 by careening out of control in the dark near Lookout Pass, on the Idaho-Montana border.
At another accident scene, the footing was so treacherous, a Spokane County sheriff’s deputy had to crawl back to his patrol car on his hands and knees.
“People could actually ice skate on the streets if they wanted to,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Irv Haynes, who predicted the ice would turn to rain today.
There was plenty of crumpled metal, but no life-threatening injuries were reported late Sunday on either side of the border.
Washington State Patrol troopers went to some 200 accidents before 5 p.m. in Spokane County alone, said dispatcher John Ferrell, who worked an unexpected 12-hour day.
“Most of them are just slipping and sliding off the road - into each other or into the ditch,” Ferrell said.
Idaho State Police reported about 20 accidents by Sunday evening.
Uncounted accidents continued through the night.
Some of the worst trouble spots were on I-90.
Idaho state and county officials closed Lookout Pass for about an hour Sunday evening, as sand trucks tried to weave between some 300 cars and trucks trapped on the ice. The pass reopened about 5:30 p.m., but many vehicles still couldn’t move.
Trucker Mark Sullivan of Corvalis, Ore., spent an hour trying unsuccessfully to put on tire chains at the 4,738-foot summit. Finally, he retired to his cab for an evening of watching “Pulp Fiction” on his in-truck entertainment system.
An Idaho Transportation Department sand truck skidded out of control on a steep stretch near the pass, narrowly missing several stranded cars.
“This is as bad as it gets,” said the truck driver, Dave Oakes.
Some snowmobilers took advantage of the stand-still to test their off-road machines on the freeway’s frozen lanes.
In Eastern Washington, I-90 was virtually impassable after nightfall between Ritzville and Moses Lake.
In four hours starting at 1 p.m., four cars overturned in separate accidents on the West Plains, said a dispatcher for Spokane County Fire District 8.
At the Washington-Idaho line, tow truck operators spent the afternoon charging drivers $10 apiece to put their cars back on I-90. They had plenty of takers, said Ferrell.
On a normal weekend, Gwen Malito, a Spokane dispatcher for more than 20 tow trucks, gets a handful of calls, typically for cars that are being impounded or have dead batteries.
But by 5 p.m. Sunday, she’d sent trucks out 28 times. Each call was an accident, including one four-car pileup near Cheney.
The Palouse Highway, Wandermere Road and state Highway 27 south of Dishman-Mica Road were among scores of Washington roads labeled “totally impassible” by officers.
Stranded cars blocked traffic on portions of U.S. Highway 95 south of Coeur d’Alene.
The bad weather also blanketed other parts of the Northwest.
The Oregon State Police closed Interstate 84 Sunday afternoon in the Columbia Gorge. Some 200 vehicles were stranded along a five-mile stretch of freeway.
High wind warnings were issued for the Washington and Oregon coasts, with gusts as high as 96 mph at Cape Blanco, Ore. Sustained winds of 42 mph were reported at Westport, Wash.
The National Weather Service issued a flood warning for the Skokomish River, on the eastern side of the Olympic Peninsula. Minor flooding in the Skokomish Valley was expected through Monday morning.
Meteorologist Haynes said the high temperature in Spokane today should be about 10 degrees higher than on Sunday.
Winds were expected to shift from the northeast to the southwest, creating a warm weather pattern that would temporarily put an end to the snow and frozen rain.
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The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Dan Hansen Staff writer Staff writer Rich Roesler and The Associated Press contributed to this report.