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Spokane’s First Snowfall Catches Many Unprepared

Despite being forecast for days, the first snow of the season caught some area drivers and the Spokane street department unprepared.

City street crews still were working on autumn leaf cleanup, despite predictions of snow, when the flakes began falling at 2 a.m. Tuesday.

“We had one sander out,” said Jim Smith, director of city street maintenance.

Crews started working about 6 a.m. with the sander, six de-icers and 12 snowplows. The other sanders and remaining de-icers just weren’t ready to roll yet.

The working sander hit the worst trouble spots with sand, and de-icers did what they could against already icy roads.

Apparently, it wasn’t enough. Morning traffic skidded its way down the South Hill and was backed up for blocks. Fender-benders added to the problems.

State troopers responded to more than 45 collisions from 6 to 11 a.m. Tuesday. Only one was serious, sending a man to Deaconess Medical Center.

Scott J. Hagerty, 37, of Mead, was in serious condition Tuesday after he lost control of his car during the morning snowfall and it was struck by an oncoming pickup on U.S. Highway 2 north of Spokane.

The accident happened at 7:15 a.m., north of Farwell Road, the Washington State Patrol said.

Hagerty was driving his 1986 Toyota south on U.S. 2 when he lost control and the car veered into the northbound lane. His car was struck by an oncoming pickup, driven by Gregory E. Nealey of Spokane.

Nealey, 28, wasn’t injured in the accident, the State Patrol said.

Hagerty was wearing a seat belt and Nealey was not, the State Patrol said.

“It would be safe to say that we were real busy this morning,” said WSP Sgt. Chris Powell, who had trouble getting to work on the backed-up streets of the South Hill.

Lincoln was closed temporarily Tuesday morning from Fifth to Seventh; Freya was closed near 11th and 12th; and Ben Garnett Way was closed from Sumner to Ninth.

Snowfall averaged about 2 inches throughout the region. As little as 1 inch was reported at one location in the Spokane Valley, while 6 inches fell in Latah in southern Spokane County. Two inches of snow were recorded at Spokane International Airport. That snow amounted to 0.31 inches of melted precipitation.

Meteorologists said Tuesday’s snow resulted when a mass of moist Pacific air blew over a layer of cold air hugging the ground east of the Cascade Mountains.

By midday, the freezing level over Spokane had risen to 6,800 feet, which is higher than the top of Mount Spokane. The cold air at the surface was expected to be blown away overnight and be replaced by the milder Pacific air. The high today should be 49, and windy conditions are forecast.

“This snow will be gone except for the very highest elevations,” said John Livingston, chief forecaster for the National Weather Service in Spokane.

A new cold front is expected to cross the region by the end of the week, bringing another shot of rain and possibly snow during the weekend. That will give street crews a few more days to get ready for winter. The winter schedule starts Sunday.

In the city of Spokane, that means crews are on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week, depending on weather problems. A dozen sanders, nine liquid de-icer trucks and 20 snowplows can be sent out when a storm strikes. Normally, the de-icer trucks go out before a storm hits and spread a layer of a liquid melting agent to prevent ice from forming.

“It takes considerably less energy,” Smith said. “Our efforts are always to keep it from freezing.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

Tags: weather