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Melting snow floods streets

A brief lowland thaw Thursday sent streams of water flowing down snow- and ice-clogged arterial streets in Spokane County, triggering minor flooding and reminding residents that this winter’s mounting snowpack is going to have to go somewhere eventually.

National Weather Service forecasters in Spokane said urban and small-stream flooding could occur if the weather warms quickly and it rains. But for now, computer forecasts are calling for continued bouts of snow for the next week or two.

An additional 4 inches of snow are expected across the Inland Northwest Saturday night and Sunday morning.

“Obviously, if this snow melts quickly, we are in big trouble,” said Jon Fox, a forecaster in Spokane.

Utility officials said they weren’t waiting for that.

Six Spokane city wastewater crews were dispatched to clear ice and compacted snow from storm drains. Three crews were working downtown, where melting snow pooled at intersections. Intersections along Main Avenue had some of the biggest pools. Water on Sprague Avenue backed up over the curb on Monroe Street, sending water through an elevator vault into the basement of the Chronicle Building. On the North Side, water pooled along curb lanes on Monroe Street, Indiana Avenue and other arterials.

Spokane Valley officials Thursday hired a private contractor to vacuum up pooling water along Sprague Avenue and Appleway, a spokeswoman said.

Fox said weather service computer forecasts showed continued cold weather and snow through mid-February. In 1996, mild rain unleashed flooding after 42.7 inches of snow fell in December. One of the worst floods in memory raged along Latah Creek on New Year’s Day in 1997.

By Thursday, Spokane International Airport had 20 inches of snow on the ground. January ended as the fourth snowiest on record with 40 inches of new snow measured through Thursday morning. A trace or more of snow has covered the ground at the airport since Dec. 22.

The most snow recorded in a month in Spokane was 56.9 inches in January 1950. Records go back to 1881.

Fox said winter typically eases its grip across the valleys of the Inland Northwest by the third week in February. “We’ve got two weeks to go,” he said.

If a quick runoff occurs, officials said residents can help prevent flooding by removing snow and ice from neighborhood storm drains.