February 25, 2011 in City

Snow leaves region adrift

Storm is strongest, coldest in 18 years for late February
 
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Like chicks tucked behind a mother hen, a line of cars follow a road grader west on 57th Avenue as it clears the heavy snowfall Thursday. The powdery snow was blowing into drifts that made driving and plowing difficult.
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Schools and government offices closed for the day Thursday after nearly a foot of snow covered the ground in the coldest late-February storm in 18 years.

The National Weather Service lifted a blizzard warning but said temperatures this morning and Saturday morning will drop below zero.

The agency reported that 11 inches of snow fell at Spokane International Airport on Wednesday and Thursday morning.

In other reports, including one from a weather service employee in northwest Spokane, up to 14 inches of snow fell in the Spokane area. Drifts as deep as three feet were reported in Airway Heights.

More snow is possible by Saturday night through Monday, and the next two weeks are likely to bring periods of snow and rain, forecasters said.

“It’s going to be a while before we see any nice, warmer weather,” forecaster Paul Bos said.

The Spokane snowfall total was at least 3 inches greater than the 8 inches predicted by the weather service Tuesday, largely because a frontal system stalled over the region Wednesday night and early Thursday.

This is the strongest and coldest late-February storm to hit since 1993, when 13 inches of snow fell and temperatures plunged below zero.

It follows the La Niña weather pattern that kicked off the current winter season with more than a foot of snow and bitter cold Nov. 21-25.

The wind chill feeling Thursday was minus 5 at 1 p.m. at the airport, where the temperature was 13 and the wind was blowing 20 mph.

Wind gusts above 30 mph were reported around the region, including Sandpoint and Deer Park. Forecasters warned of low visibility and drifting snow on the Palouse, where state Highway 27 was closed between Tekoa and Fairfield.

Drifting snow closed U.S. Highway 195 early Thursday for two hours. The road opened about 6:30 a.m.

The Idaho State Police asked drivers to stay off state Highway 41 between Post Falls and Rathdrum because of poor visibility. Officers continued to respond to traffic accidents caused by the slippery conditions.

Reports indicated that Spokane and the West Plains areas likely were the hardest hit, although one report from Bonners Ferry had snowfall of 20 inches.

Bitter cold likely will return tonight, with a low of minus 9 Saturday morning in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene. Highs today and Saturday will be in the teens.

Temperatures are expected to rise to the freezing level Sunday and to 34 Monday in Spokane.

There is a 40 percent chance of snow starting Saturday night, a 60 percent chance Sunday and a 70 percent chance Sunday night and Monday.

Spokane and Coeur d’Alene area school districts, colleges, some federal offices and at least one library district closed Thursday.

Many rural districts closed as well.

Two of the city of Spokane’s three warming shelters were opened: House of Charity, 32 W. Pacific Ave., for single men; and the Salvation Army, 222 E. Indiana Ave., for families and couples.

Spokane County had 71 pieces of equipment working to clear 2,550 miles of roads. Spokane Valley had all of its plowing equipment deployed.

Spokane declared a Stage 2 snow emergency, which means crews would begin plowing residential streets after arterials are cleared. City officials asked residents to move cars off arterial streets to make way for plows, and that cars on residential streets be parked on the side of the street with even-numbered addresses.

Spokeswoman Marlene Feist said the city hired 10 private grader operators to help. Spokane had about 60 plows and graders working the streets. Crews were planning to plow downtown streets Thursday night.

For more information on city plowing, go to spokanestreetdepartment.org.


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