Going Nowhere Travelers Trapped Between Storms

Holiday travelers were stymied for a second day Friday as the Northwest struggled to dig out from one severe storm and prepare for the next.

Highways across Washington’s Cascades were either closed or open only to cars with chains. Spokane International Airport was jammed with passengers headed for cities where airports were closed. And many bus passengers spent Thursday night and Friday on the floor at Greyhound’s Spokane station.

“All schedules departing Spokane have been cancelled,” read a chalkboard at the Greyhound ticket counter.

Snow stopped falling in Spokane by midmorning Friday. But the outlook is for one storm after another across the region, for as long as forecasters dare guess.

Snoqualmie Pass, closed by heavy snow Thursday and Friday, was expected to get 2 more feet of snow Friday night.

“It could put our (road) crews back to where they were Thursday,” and leave Washington’s primary east-west route closed much of the weekend, said Clarissa Lundeen, state Department of Transportation spokeswoman.

Stevens Pass was closed by avalanches until 2:30 p.m. Thursday, leaving White Pass, a twisty, two-lane road near Mount Rainier, as the only route over the mountains for much of the day. Chains were required on both passes.

Hundreds of travelers were temporarily stranded Friday after an avalanche closed Interstate 90 in Montana eight miles east of Lookout Pass. No one was injured in the 11:30 a.m. snowslide. Crews cleared the 12-foot-deep debris within three hours.

The National Weather Service issued a new winter storm watch Friday for 2 to 4 more inches of snow starting tonight.

Computer forecast models suggest the storm will arrive as late as midnight, with snow or freezing rain falling through the day on Sunday.

Lyle Hammer, a Weather Service forecaster in Spokane, said the storm should be similar to Friday’s. However, the Weather Service hasn’t ruled out heavier precipitation.

Hammer said the weekend storm may not be the last before the year ends. “In our five-day forecast, we see one after another,” he said.

At Spokane International Airport, stranded passengers with vacant faces stared at the snow, sipped coffee and made small-talk with strangers. Drifts of newspapers formed on vinyl benches.

Planes couldn’t fly to Seattle or Portland because airports in those cities were nearly shut down by ice and snow. The first flight from Seattle on Friday didn’t arrive until 2 p.m., said John Morrison, executive director of the Spokane airport.

Airports in Butte, Mont., Helena and Boise also were shut down at times Thursday and Friday, Morrison said.

Alaska Airlines gave would-be passengers a choice: huddle in Spokane, or hop a 12-hour bus ride to Seattle. Rather than risk crossing the mountains, the bus detoured south to icy Interstate 84, on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge.

Many customers chose to stay.

At the Greyhound and Amtrak station in downtown Spokane, travelers sprawled on the tile floor, reading, listening to radios or disc players with head phones or trying to sleep.

“I feel like a bum,” said Tekethya Gehrig, who spent the night on a wooden bench, trying to ignore the constant grunts and yelps from a nearby martial arts video game. She and her 2-year-old daughter, Audra, are heading back to Fargo, N.D., after spending Christmas with relatives in Portland.

Amtrak’s Empire Builder was supposed to stop in Spokane at 2:40 a.m. Friday before heading for Western Washington. Slowed by ice and snow in Montana, it was 15 hours late, said Dominick Albana, Amtrak spokesman.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Color photos

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Dan Hansen Staff writer Staff writers Jonathan Martin, Craig Welch and Susan Drumheller contributed to this report.

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