December 18, 2008 in City, Idaho

Friday is best bet for heading to Seattle

By The Spokesman-Review
J. Bart Rayniak photo

Rod Lofquest of West Point, Nebraska chains up after getting stuck at the west bound I-90 exit at Sullivan Rd., Thursday morning, December 18, 2008 in Spokane Valley, Wash. A trucker from Georgia with no chains high centered while exiting the interstate, causing three trucks to slide off and close the exit. Lofquest was headed to Moses Lake to pick up a load of cattle.
(Full-size photo)

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Hoping to make the Battle in Seattle?

Then you’d better skedaddle.

While the basketball game between Gonzaga and the University of Connecticut isn’t until Saturday afternoon, meteorologists and transportation officials were predicting Thursday that Friday would offer the best bet to drive across the state between storms.

Even then, “I would allow at least two extra hours travel time,” said Mike Westbay, public information officer for the Washington Department of Transportation in Yakima. “You may be able to get over the pass just fine, but then find a mess in Seattle.”

With storms pummeling much of the state, traveling virtually anywhere from Spokane or Seattle was a gamble Thursday.

Sea-Tac Airport was virtually shut down at times. And because much of Spokane’s air traffic involves planes going through Seattle, service was disrupted at Spokane International Airport, as well. At midday, only three of 17 departures were listed on the Spokane airport’s Web site as being on schedule; the rest were delayed or cancelled.

Chains were required at Snoqualmie Pass for any vehicle without 4 wheel drive. They were required on commercial trucks heading over the North Idaho passes.

Meanwhile, transportation officials in Spokane and North Idaho urged people to stay home. Police said people should consider Spokane streets closed, as crews tried to cope with two feet of snow – and more in places.

“It was sort of like being in a snow globe” driving to work Thursday morning, said Mike Fries, meteorologist for the National Weather Service. “And when you do the weather (for a job), it’s really not an excuse to not show up because of the weather.”

Areas north, south and west of Spokane got less snow than Spokane, with the Weather Service reporting six inches in Pullman, two inches in Moses Lake and 17 inches in Loon Lake. But conditions were bad nonetheless, with some roads closed at times in Whitman County, along with portions of state Highway 27 in southern Spokane County.

State road crews were working to clear highways. But with no break in the onslaught, “we’re struggling,” said Al Gilson, Department of Transportation spokesman in Spokane. “Until the storm stops, we won’t make a whole lot of headway.”

And while a break was expected overnight and Friday, Gilson was worried about winds that could cause drifting snow and dangerous conditions over secondary roads, as well as U.S. Highway 195 on the Palouse.

Westbay said crews planned to conduct avalanche control on Snoqualmie Pass overnight and hoped to have the work completed by daylight.

“If you leave (Spokane) first thing in the morning, you’ll be hitting the pass about midday, which sounds like about the best time,” Westbay said.

Given the conditions, it’s apropos that the Zags are playing a team that goes by the nickname U-Conn and has huskies as its mascot.

“They’re going to think they’re in the Yukon,” Westbay said.

Dan Hansen can be reached at (509) 459-3938 or

Dan Hansen can be reached at (509) 459-3938 or at

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