Timeline of December 2008 snow
Wednesday, Dec. 17: The snow begins to fall lightly in the morning and in earnest by late afternoon. Commuters get stuck on streets leading to the South Hill. Police eventually declare that, except for major arterials, “motorists should consider ALL streets in Spokane closed.” The snowstorm is the result of “the alignment of everything,” says National Weather Service forecaster John Livingston.
Thursday, Dec. 18: Spokane ends up with 23 inches by the end of the day. Coeur d’Alene boasts 25 inches. School districts and colleges throughout the Inland Northwest close, as do most government offices. Spokane Transit Authority suspends all but four of its 39 routes. Travel ranges from difficult to impossible out of Spokane International Airport; at least 75 travelers spend the night there. The Christmas Bureau shuts its doors to poor families and individuals for the first time in its 50-year history. Sacred Heart Medical Center cancels elective surgeries. Stores and malls close early. The Washington State Patrol responds to almost 200 collisions. Two state highways are closed – routes 194 and 272 in Whitman County – as are several Kootenai County roads on the Rathdrum Prairie. “This one is absolutely off the Richter scale,” says Coeur d’Alene’s deputy city administrator, Jon Ingalls.
Friday, Dec. 19: Today’s snowfall totals just 1.4 inches, but conditions remain dismal on Inland Northwest mountain passes. Still, holiday travelers are advised to make it to their destinations today, before things get worse. A new Idaho law, enforcing mandatory chain-ups for commercial trucks on snowy passes, is likely saving lives. The STA opens only six bus routes, and side streets remain nearly impassable. Schools remain closed, as do most government offices and the Christmas Bureau.
Saturday, Dec. 20: Only a trace of snow, though streets and yards remain full of it. Inland Northwest solid waste companies make up for lost garbage pickup days. Shoppers hit the malls, despite the cold. Today’s low temperature: minus 18.
Sunday, Dec. 21: A new storm dumps 5 inches. Car accidents mount. The WSP reports 105 collisions and cars sliding off roads in seven counties. Coeur d’Alene reports a dozen collisions and 25 slide-offs. State Route 27 closes because of high winds.
Monday, Dec. 22: Nearly 4 more inches pile on top of snow berms. It becomes more difficult to travel as Christmas draws near. Flights are canceled or delayed out of the Spokane airport, in part because snow has paralyzed airports in Seattle and Portland. Amtrak delays stretch for hours. Greyhound buses: all canceled. Cold temperatures persist, with the low hitting minus 2. Warming centers for the homeless remain open in Spokane. Most snow-removal employees in Inland Northwest municipalities work 12-hour shifts, with no days off. The snow heaped at Spokane’s dump site reaches more than 14 feet high. Spokane Valley Mayor Richard Munson declares a state of emergency in an effort to get funding help from the state and the feds.
Tuesday, Dec. 23: Mother Nature takes a break. Just 1.6 inches today, though it’s still cold. The first major roof collapse of the season occurs at Inland Empire Drywall in Spokane Valley; no one is hurt. Kootenai County Fire and Rescue urges residents to dig out fire hydrants. In Spokane, crews finish an entire plow of the city. A 53-year-old man is arrested for allegedly using a gun to confront plow drivers as they clear the streets in front of his mother’s home. Greg Koch, a weather service meteorologist, says – in a familiar refrain – “We’re watching the next storm come toward us.”
Wednesday, Dec. 24: The next snowstorm arrives – 6 inches today. The city of Spokane declares an emergency. Some grocery stores have been slow in getting supplies, but last-minute Christmas meal shoppers still find plenty. Some churches cancel Christmas Eve services. A downtown power outage adds to the disruption. Today’s snowfall sends this month to the record books. December 2008 is declared the snowiest December since weather-record keeping began in 1881. And a week remains in the month.
Thursday, Dec. 25: It’s a white Christmas, all right. But mild snow – just about an inch – allows families to gather, church services to commence.
Friday, Dec. 26: Christmas is over. Put out the trash. Headaches continue for solid waste employees. Alley service is suspended in Coeur d’Alene and Spokane because automated garbage trucks can’t push through the snow. The roof on a building at the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center collapses; just a week earlier, families in need were there collecting vouchers and toys at the Christmas Bureau.
Saturday, Dec. 27: The Inland Northwest has been swept clean of almost anything with “snow” in the name: tires, chains, shovels and blowers. Thefts of such items increase. Spokane County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Dave Reagan says “stolen snowblowers are now more valuable on the street than stolen OxyContin.” Spokane County joins the cities of Spokane and Spokane Valley and declares a state of emergency. Avista, Inland Power and Light Co., and Kootenai Electric Cooperative respond to hundreds of power outages. Meanwhile, Inland Northwest children go sledding, build snowmen and create ice forts. They will talk about this winter the rest of their lives.
Sunday, Dec. 28: Venita Johnson, Rockford’s 85-year-old unofficial historian, dies after being buried by cascading snow from her roof. A Colville man is killed in an avalanche in Okanogan County. A section of roof collapses at the Conkling Park Marina in Coeur d’Alene; several boats are damaged.
Monday, Dec. 29: Wham! Another 8 inches today. The Coeur d’Alene Police Department begins towing parked vehicles that make narrow streets even narrower. The roof at the Five Mile Rosauers store collapses, and Spokane reports 15 other roof collapses. The elderly and people with disabilities face challenges clearing snow from their sidewalks, driveways and streets. The 2-1-1 United Ways of America help line is inundated with calls.
Tuesday, Dec. 30: A cutting torch used to rebuild a collapsed awning likely sparks a fire at Empire Cold Storage in east Spokane. It takes 14 of the city’s 17 fire rigs to bring it under control. The snow begs off today, and the sun takes its place. Cabin-fevered folks hit the road for shopping, appointments and fun. The roads, still narrowed by snow piles and berms, are jammed.
Wednesday, Dec. 31: Snowfall is light, and First Night festivities in downtown Spokane proceed on schedule. But Rocco Pelatti, a meteorologist for the weather service, warns of six or seven new storm systems for the Inland Northwest between today and Jan. 9. Happy New Year!