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Christmas Eve snowfall buries December record

Thu., Dec. 25, 2008, 6:49 p.m.

Christmas Eve snowfall carved a place in the weather record books as December 2008 became the snowiest on record with nearly a week to go.

As of midnight Thursday, 45.2 inches had fallen at Spokane International Airport, nearly three inches more than the 42.7 inches recorded in 1996, according to the National Weather Service. Records have been kept since 1881.

The heavy snowfall has frazzled nerves, with police reporting a spike in snow-fueled neighbor disputes and outbursts this week, including one man accused of threatening two plow truck drivers with a gun. That was before another five inches fell Wednesday night and early Thursday, followed by an inch or two Thursday afternoon.

“We’re finally having two Northwest winters back to back and people are just absolutely freaking out,” said J.J. Johnson, a plow truck driver with the city of Spokane.

About 24 plow truck drivers worked 12-hour shifts Christmas Day, clearing arterials of the fresh snow that continued to fall.

Johnson wasn’t surprised by the arrest of a South Hill man accused of threatening two plow drivers with a gun Tuesday. Threats with weapons happen about once a year, he said, but people are more likely to throw shovels or heave snowballs at the truck.

Some have their young children stand in front of their driveways to discourage the plows from pushing the snow there, Johnson said. The biggest complaints seem to be that the plows push snow onto sidewalks and driveways.

“This department is damned if we do and damned if we don’t,” Johnson said. “People say there’s gotta be a better way, but nobody has any ideas.”

Not everyone is nasty. Johnson recalled one woman who watched him push heaps of snow from the street into her driveway. When he returned to do it again days later, she gave him a plate of freshly baked cookies.

With another storm expected tonight, Johnson isn’t sure when he’ll get a break. Christmas was his ninth day in a row plowing roads. Last year, he worked 17 days in a row.

He doesn’t have much sympathy for those who complain about the heavy snow. After all, he says, it’s the Inland Northwest.

“Learn to drive in it, or move,” he said.

There’s still plenty of time to practice: today and Saturday could bring 4 to 6 inches of new snow, said Laurie Nisbet, a meteorologist with the NWS in Spokane.

“It’ll be wetter, heavier snow, so it might not accumulate as much,” Nisbet said.

December’s record snow surprised even the experts. Employees at the NWS office in Spokane have an office pool on total snowfall for the year. None predicted last week’s huge dumping.

Now, Nisbet said, “We’re all way off.”

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