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Rain and snow melt a concern

An ice jam was backing up the Palouse River in Colfax this afternoon, and debris was flooding across roadways in the Palouse region as a strong January thaw brought an end to more than three weeks of record-setting winter weather.

Temperatures rose to the mid- and upper-40s today across much of the region, even hitting 50 in Pullman.

Snow melt flooded portions of streets in Spokane and North Idaho while crews hurried to unblock storm drains. Weather officials said a combination of rain and increased snow levels will add to the runoff through Thursday.

Wallace, Kellogg and Osburn where rain was falling throughout the day reported standing water and blocked storm drains, said Greg Koch, forecaster for the Weather Service. He also said there was a report of ponding water on Interstate 90 near Silverton.

Forecasters said the Inland Northwest could see anywhere from a half inch in Spokane to 1.25 inches of rain in Wallace through Thursday, according to the National Weather Service.

“It looks like we’ll see one more slug of moisture coming at us tonight and Thursday,” Koch said.

A flood watch was issued for the Palouse River at Potlatch, which could affect Palouse in Whitman County. The water was expected to crest at 14.6 feet, just below flood stage in Potlatch of 15 feet.

Weather forecasters were also keeping an eye on Latah Creek where water was flowing over ice, creating the possibility that ice might break loose and get pushed into ice jams.

Spokane County officials said that the town of Rockford had requested 1,000 sandbags in case Rock Creek overflows.

On Tuesday, a large bulldozer got stuck while moving snow along a county road and had to be pulled out by a crane after three commercial wreckers were unable to free the bulldozer.

Frustration among residents continued. County Commissioner Todd Mielke said one of his plow drivers was threatened by a motorist who blocked the plow’s path, got out of his pickup, jumped on the plow truck running boards and banged on the plow truck windshield.

In the Cascades, avalanche danger was extreme, could see as much as five inches.

“Flood warnings are in effect today through Friday for 14 counties in Western Washington and six in Eastern Washington,” said Rob Harper, a Washington Emergency Management Division spokesman. “A dozen rivers are projected to experience major to record flooding. Avalanches and landslides are affecting state highways.”

Standing water will be a concern in the metropolitan area, according to the National Weather Service.

Snow loading on roofs was a “major concern,” the weather service said in a Special Weather Statement. The weight of the rain on top of the snow could exceed the typical load roofs are designed to hold.

However, forecaster John Livingston said snow loads on roofs in the metropolitan area had been reduced by the melt down.

A cold front expected Thursday evening should end the rainfall and cause temperatures to drop to seasonal normals of around 32 degrees during the day and the low 20s at night. The outlook for Jan. 15 through 21 calls for above normal temperatures and below normal precipitation, Livingston said.

“Things should be winding down,” he said of the succession of storms.

Spokane had a record 61.5 inches of snow in December and another 16.3 inches of snow this month. With some rain added to that, the weight of the snow caused dozens of roof collapses across the region, in addition to forcing school, business and government office closures.

Two fatalilties were attributed to the succession of storms.

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