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Snowstorm piles it on

Dennis Doyle and his friends stayed off the roads to glide along on the Centennial Trail on Sunday afternoon. 
 (Rajah Bose / The Spokesman-Review)
Dennis Doyle and his friends stayed off the roads to glide along on the Centennial Trail on Sunday afternoon. (Rajah Bose / The Spokesman-Review)

Just stay home.

With more than a foot of new snow in some areas – and more expected over the next three days, at least – Spokane city and county officials are asking people to stay off the roads today if at all possible. Idaho State Police made the same recommendation.

“We don’t want folks out contributing to the fender-bender ratio,” Spokane Mayor Mary Verner said from her South Hill home. “It’s just not safe for people to be out on the streets.”

In addition to making driving treacherous, the wet snow snapped power lines serving more than 7,700 Avista customers. There were still more than 2,000 Eastern Washington and North Idaho homes without electricity as of Sunday night.

And it left some rural areas out of reach for emergency vehicles, said Tom Mattern, deputy director of Spokane County Emergency Management.

Authorities’ admonition to stay off the streets included many government workers.

Most “non-essential” Spokane city and county employees will be given a day off today, and City Hall will be closed, officials announced at a press conference Sunday evening at the county’s emergency operations center.

However, the plan did not call for shutting down courts, or parking garbage trucks or Spokane Transit Authority buses.

And the city of Spokane Valley isn’t going to close for the day.

“It’s deep, and it’s slushy, but I don’t think it’s impassable,” Mayor Rich Munson said of the streets near his Valley home.

Officials are asking private employers to consider closing, too, Mattern said.

The snow was so heavy and coming down so fast Sunday that city crews had to keep re-plowing arterials, officials said.

“It just keeps coming,” said Spokane Public Works Director Dave Mandyke.

In fact, more snow is expected throughout the week as a slow-moving Pacific storm brings wet and cold weather to the area.

There’s a 50 percent chance of snow today with a high temperature of 24 degrees. Up to 2 inches of snow is expected today, with up to another 3 inches tonight, according to the National Weather Service.

Many neighborhood streets in Spokane and the Valley were already snowbound and impassable Sunday, and there’s no hope that plows will reach them anytime soon. Steep arterials leading into residential areas are also a problem.

On Sunday, even the granddaddy of all arterials – Interstate 90 – was a wet, slushy mess.

“This is the first time I’ve ever driven on I-90 where it had washboards,” said Sgt. Dave Reagan, Spokane Police spokesman.

Later in the night, 90 miles to the east of Spokane, an avalanche closed I-90 near Lookout Pass. Eastbound lanes had reopened Sunday night.

The snow was being attacked by 50 pieces of road machinery in the city of Spokane and 65 in Spokane County, including such heavy rigs as graders and front-end loaders.

Keeping people home today will help crews “fully address the ice and snow on all the streets,” Verner said.

“It’s not an emergency,” Verner said. “It’s just major snowstorm of a kind that we have not seen in many years.”

It takes about four days for plow crews to clear all the city’s residential streets, but residential plowing stops when snow starts falling and main streets need attention.

“We’ll just keep going 24-7 until we get ahead of it,” Mandyke said.

Similarly, Avista Utilities crews expected to work through the night to restore power to about 1,100 customers. Company spokesman Hugh Imhof said Medical Lake was the largest remaining area without power Sunday night, but there are outages on Spokane’s South Hill, and in Coeur d’Alene and Pullman.

It was unknown when Avista could get power back to many of the remaining homes and business, although Imhof said about 30 crews were working, almost the company’s maximum ability.