December 6, 2010 in City

Extreme November weather has historic company

By The Spokesman-Review
 
More on this topic

Background and the latest updates

Map of this story's location

Getting There today is devoted to not getting there.

The last two weeks have been among the worst that winter has thrown at the Inland Northwest in the past century, and it’s not even winter yet. That won’t come for two more weeks.

But November has a history of being nasty, and the bad ones are memorable.

Would you trade the present predicament of clogged residential streets for 10 nights of below-zero temperature and snow that were staggered throughout November 1985?

How about the 10 days that some residents went without electricity following the damaging ice storm in November 1996?

This fall ranks among the worst with a record 25.9 inches of snow in Spokane during November.

The spell started innocently enough with a three-day storm that dropped 10.6 inches starting Nov. 21. That initial snow fell on relatively warm pavement, causing it to quickly harden, and as traffic packed it down, streets remained easily passable.

The same thing happened again Nov. 25-27 when 7.5 inches of heavier snow fell.

When Spokane city plow crews finally got around to clearing residential streets for the first time about a week ago, the snow was packed so hard that truck plows were ineffective because truck blades can’t cut into a lot of hard pack. They basically skimmed the top.

Mark Serbousek, Spokane city streets director, acknowledged as much in a press conference Thursday.

The city was forced to remobilize its fleet of heavy graders, and to hire privately owned graders to help out on side streets.

But the streets would have remained passable if the weather hadn’t warmed up Wednesday and Thursday. Temperatures above freezing robbed the snow of its crystalline structure that held it firm against the weight of cars and trucks.

It was as if the bottom had dropped out, and the resulting slush was more like mud.

The snowplow map on the city of Spokane’s website was inundated with 213,000 hits, enough to cause the computer server to seize up – kind of like residential traffic.

Friday’s freeze solidified the problem and provided some measure of improved traction, but the rugged conditions persisted.

You can say the city should have plowed sooner, but last Tuesday’s 5 inches of wet snow kept crews busy on main arterials.

If you need to blame someone, you might consider the 2000 Spokane City Council.

In a budget-cutting effort that year, council members voted to revise the city’s snow and ice removal plan to use trucks with plows instead of graders, saving $100,000 annually, according to a news story at the time.

The assistant city manager then warned that citizens would not be happy. Little did he know that the real unhappiness would come a decade later.

It takes two to three days to plow residential streets with trucks, but the current effort with graders takes five days, in part because of the sheer weight of the snow and ice.

While Mayor Mary Verner was urging patience last week, people were paying the price for a budget cut that has saved maybe $1 million since 2000 – if you don’t count the cost of graders the city called in for snow removal in 2008.

The city budget may have been a bit healthier most of those years, but the hazard has always been there.

The fact is that 2 feet of snow in 10 days is the work of the Inland Northwest’s climate at its extreme.

After all folks, it’s just snow.

Diversion

Northbound traffic on U.S. Highway 395 at Wandermere will be diverted onto Wandermere Road today through Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. to allow lane striping revisions through the North Spokane Corridor construction area.

Sign testing

The Washington State Department of Transportation will test its new variable message sign east of Sullivan Road this week.

Get stories like this in a free daily email


Please keep it civil. Don't post comments that are obscene, defamatory, threatening, off-topic, an infringement of copyright or an invasion of privacy. Read our forum standards and community guidelines.

You must be logged in to post comments. Please log in here or click the comment box below for options.

comments powered by Disqus