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Brief break offers chance to head out

FRIDAY, DEC. 19, 2008

Drivers should include extra time, officials warn

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 today 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 almost anywhere from Spokane or Seattle was a gamble Thursday.

The Seattle-Tacoma International 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 canceled.

Chains were required at Snoqualmie Pass for any vehicle without four-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 2 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 6 inches in Pullman, 2 inches in Moses Lake and 17 inches in Loon Lake. But conditions were bad nonetheless, with some roads closed at times in Whitman County. Portions of state Highway 27 were closed in southern Spokane County.

State road crews were working to clear highways. But with little respite Thursday, “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.”

While a break was expected overnight and today, 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 a husky 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

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