Precipitation, melting snow and heavy traffic created a commuter’s nightmare Tuesday as the Inland Northwest began to emerge from its blizzard of holiday storms.
The snow may be over, but not the trouble.
A heavy snowpack that has collapsed dozens of roofs across the region – including at least 30 in Spokane – claimed at least one more commercial structure Tuesday and threatened more under a forecast for moderate rain through Thursday afternoon.
Snow and rain Tuesday, along with moderating temperatures, triggered a rush of meltwater that covered many roads, a hazard that public officials said will continue for days.
The National Weather Service issued an urban and small-stream flood warning for much of the region through 3 p.m. Friday.
A little more than an inch of rain was expected to fall in Spokane through Thursday afternoon, with 1.8 inches expected in Coeur d’Alene and 1.85 inches in the Silver Valley of North Idaho.
By some accounts, the Tuesday morning commute was one of the slowest-going in the region’s three-week bout with wintry weather.
Two accidents on Interstate 90 near the Argonne and Broadway interchanges slowed westbound traffic to a crawl and eventually backed up other routes as drivers sought a clear path into Spokane, said Monica Harwood, manager of the Spokane Regional Traffic Management Center.
Slow morning traffic was also reported in northwest Spokane.
“It was probably the worst” commute of the season, Harwood said.
By afternoon, water blocked Sunset Boulevard near Government Way in Spokane, forcing police to close Sunset for more than an hour as crews opened drains blocked by snow.
Water covered Second Avenue at Maple Street at mid-afternoon, and the eastbound median lane on the I-90 viaduct in Spokane had standing water.
Jeneen Barratt, who operates an errand service called Classy Rides, said she saw chunks of plowed snow falling from berms Tuesday onto the freeway’s median lanes through Spokane Valley. “I would say people were driving way too fast and there was a lot of water,” she said.
After the rain stopped, fog formed on the West Plains on Tuesday afternoon.
Roofs were just as besieged as the roads.
Firefighters were called to a commercial building at 6619 N. Cedar St. around 5:30 a.m. Tuesday to find that about a third of the structure had collapsed because of snow.
At a Target store at the Northpointe shopping center in Spokane, customers were asked to leave for a short time while a structural engineer and workers checked the roof.
Manager Steve Asher said the store was taking precautions by removing snowy buildup and clearing ice from drains.
Four Ziggy’s stores closed so workers could remove snow from their roofs. They expect to reopen Thursday. The Ziggy’s store in Spokane Valley remained open.
Fire crews also scrambled Tuesday to respond to gas leak. And officials expected more gas leaks caused by falling snow and ice and more roofs to give way, Spokane Fire Assistant Chief Brian Schaeffer said.
Counties included in the flood warning were Spokane, Whitman, Garfield and Asotin counties in Washington, and Kootenai, Benewah, Latah and Nez Perce counties in Idaho.
Snowfall for the 2008-’09 season in Spokane reached 78.9 inches as of midnight, weather officials said, making it Spokane’s ninth-snowiest winter already.
On Monday, Spokane also broke a daily record for snowfall with 7.5 inches. The previous record – 6.7 inches – was set Jan. 5, 1959.
Spokane County Engineer Bob Brueggeman said plow crews were widening primary and secondary arterials in unincorporated areas. Crews were clearing ice from storm drains in advance of street flooding. They were also clearing staging areas next to schools for students and buses, Brueggeman said.
“The downside is that as we move stuff back, driveways are going to become exceedingly plugged,” he said. “So we are going to have some upset homeowners.”
Washington state highway crews were working to reopen roadways in the Pullman and Colfax areas. State highways 23 and 272 had just one lane open for emergency and local traffic only, state officials said.
In addition, Highway 27 from Pullman to Garfield and Highway 271 were narrower because of snow.
U.S. Highway 2 from Leavenworth, Wash., to eight miles west of the Stevens Pass summit was closed because of avalanche control efforts. I-90 at Snoqualmie Pass was opened after being closed in the morning.
U.S. Highway 12 was closed Tuesday afternoon for an avalanche control project near Lolo Pass, on the Idaho-Montana border. The highway could reopen late today, depending on the weather and the success of the project, Idaho Transportation Department officials said.
The east-west route connecting Lewiston and Missoula will be closed from milepost 99, at Lowell, and milepost 160. The alternative cross border route is I-90.
Spokane police said a snowplow hit a parked car Tuesday, and officers asked owners to move or at least clear off the tops of their vehicles.
Spokane Transit Authority buses were moving, but several routes had detours because streets were clogged with snow. Go to spokanetransit.com for details.