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Snow warning upgraded by Weather Service

UPDATED: Thu., Jan. 19, 2012, 4:29 p.m.

Here is the reason westbound I-90 was closed this morning at Cle Elum. Twisted semis in a multi-vehicle accident have taken hours to clear. (Washington Department of Transportation)
Here is the reason westbound I-90 was closed this morning at Cle Elum. Twisted semis in a multi-vehicle accident have taken hours to clear. (Washington Department of Transportation)

UPDATE AT 4:20 p.m.

The National Weather Service has upgraded its snow advisory to a winter storm warning for the Spokane and Coeur d’Alene areas after heavier-than-expected snow arrived today.

So far today, 3.8 inches of snow had fallen at Spokane International Airport through 4 p.m. today on top of the 3.7 inches measured on Wednesday.

Another 1 to 3 inches of snow is possible across the region before the storm starts to wind down about 10 p.m.

Note: The city incorrectly stated the side of the street cars in residential hill areas should be parked during the snow emergency. The cars should be parked on the odd side. The story below has been changed to reflect that change.

UPDATE AT 2 p.m.

The Washington State Patrol reported that in the 24 hours ending at 9 a.m. today, troopers statewide responded to almost 4 times more incidents than they did last year: 2,317 this year versus 626 on the same date in 2011. That includes accidents, downed trees and other calls for help.

UPDATE AT 12:37 p.m.

The City of Spokane declared a stage 1 snow emergency at 12:30 p.m.

The declaration creates a ban on parking along arterials and Spokane Transit Authority bus routes starting at 6:30 p.m. Along plow routes deemed “residential hill routes,” cars must be parked on the side of the street that has odd-numbered addresses by 12:30 a.m.

A plow map is available here.

UPDATE AT 11:18 a.m.

An ice storm followed heavy snow in western Washington, bringing down trees that killed one person and knocked out power for about 100,000 homes, and sending cars and trucks spinning out of control.

The ice storm moved into central and southeast Washington late this morning, forcing closure of Interstate 82 south of Kennewick to the Columbia River at Plymouth, Wash. Multiple collisions were reported on that stretch, which is a major east-west and north-south freeway link for the region.

A multi-vehicle pileup on Interstate 90 at Cle Elum closed the freeway’s westbound lanes there.

Across the Inland Northwest, the latest snow total reports from spotters are impressive in some locales. Tops on the list is a location four miles from Wallace at 19.7 inches. Elsewhere, St. Maries had 17.6 inches, a spot 14 miles from Asotin had 16.3 inches and Bayview had 13 inches.

Spokane International Airport reported 4.3 inches since the storm started Wednesday through 10 a.m.

In King County, the person struck by a falling tree was backing an all-terrain vehicle out of a shed Thursday morning near Issaquah, said sheriff’s Sgt. Cindi West. The ATV rider died at the scene in the first fatality of the storm.

“Tree branches have been falling all over the place because of the weight of the ice,” West said.

The storm system delivered rain and flooding to western Oregon, where a child died and an adult is presumed dead in Albany, Ore., after an overflowing creek swept a car out of a grocery store parking lot. Up to 10 inches of rain fell on the Oregon Coast Range in a 36-hour period, and more rain and flooding is on the way. Heavy rain was falling there this morning.

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire declared a state of emergency because of the freezing rain.

“This is purely a precautionary move,” said spokeswoman Karina Shagren. “At this point, we have not received any requests from cities or counties for state help, but we know weather conditions are changing rapidly so we want to be prepared.”

A state Transportation Department worker was injured in a crash on Interstate 405 near Interstate 5 north of Seattle, said DOT spokeswoman Jamie Holter. Freezing rain and ice pellets caused numerous accidents in the Seattle area, Holter said.

The ice storm warning covers Seattle, Tacoma, Bremerton, the east Puget Sound lowlands, Olympia, the lower Chehalis Valley and central coast, including Hoquiam.

Forecasters expect up to 0.4 inch of ice before temperatures rise above freezing by afternoon.

The warm-up could bring flooding to the Chehalis River in southwest Washington, meteorologist Colman said. But a freezing level of 3,000 to 4,000 feet should help keep snow in the mountains.

Forecasters said a cold front being fed by modified arctic air is draped across Washington from west to east with freezing rain falling near the boundary. In the Inland Northwest, the northern wind is seeping through mountain gaps, including the Purcell Trench north of Coeur d’Alene and the Okanogan River Valley. That cold is keeping northern portions of Eastern Washington and North Idaho cold enough for snow to continue falling.

The arctic front is expected to retreat on Friday into Saturday.

On the West Side, the cold air moves down the Frasier River to Vancouver, B.C. and then spills southward from there into the Puget Sound Basin.


The Washington state Department of Transportation says Snoqualmie Pass is closed westbound from Ellensburg to Easton. The closure is expected to last several hours.

Eastbound lanes are open, but traction tires are required.

It’s snowing hard and 19 degrees on the pass, with areas of freezing rain.


Gov. Chris Gregoire declared a state of emergency this morning because of severe weather around the state, activating the National Guard and waiving rules for the delivery of milk from dairies to processing facilities because of road conditions.

Gregoire’s declaration orders the state adjutant general to activate whatever units of the Washington National Guard necessary to help with the weather which has caused “produced extensive snowfall throughout the Washington lowlands and in mountain elevations.”

Road closures have created delays, which pose a problem for the timely delivery of milk from dairies within the state to the processing plants, which is “a public disaster that affects life, health, property or the public peace”, the declaration says. She suspended the rules governing the number of hours drivers can operate until Jan. 22, ordering companies to “use their best judgment in delivering their products in a manner that ensures public safety.”

At 10 a.m., Boeing Field in Seattle was reporting light freezing rain and 29 degrees.


Snow and freezing drizzle continued to slow traffic and cause accidents during the morning commute in Spokane.

Flights to and from Seattle were delayed or canceled due to ice on the runways at Sea-Tac Airport.

Teresa Fuller, a spokesman for the Spokane Police Department said about 10 crashes had occurred countywide by 8:30 a.m. today, mostly due to freezing rain on Interstate 90.

“It’s been a little busier this morning than it was yesterday morning,” she said. A three-car crash at Greene and Mission was cleared out quickly and commuters have been helping matters by slowing down, she said. However, she added, I-90 between Argonne to Fancher roads, westbound, has been “a parking lot.”

Freezing drizzle was reported at the Spokane airport for about four hours during the early morning hours today before precipitation switched back to snow shortly before 6 a.m.

A winter storm warning remains in effect until early Friday morning with eight to 14 inches of snow expected in North Idaho’s Panhandle mountains. Light snow is expected this morning with heavier snowfall developing by midday and continuing through tonight.

On the Palouse, snow accumulations of five to 10 inches were expected today, with a winter storm warning in effect until 10 p.m. The National Weather Service also was warning of pockets of freezing rain in the southern-most portions of Whitman County.

In the Spokane and Coeur d’Alene area, snow was expected until 10 p.m., with accumulations of 2 to 4 inches, with heavier amounts expected south of Interstate 90.

As time goes on, the focus of incoming storms will shift to the west and north of Spokane during the start of the weekend.

In the Northern Panhandle and Northeast Washington, including Sandpoint, Athol, Newport, Colville and Chewelah, a winter storm watch is in effect from Friday afternoon until Saturday morning with 5 to 8 inches of snow possible in the valleys and 10 to 12 inches possible in the mountains. The heaviest snow was expected Friday night.

Heavier snow is expected on the east slopes of the Cascades as well during the same time frame.

The storm dumped record snowfall Wednesday for a 24-hour period on several Eastern Washington and North Idaho cities, including Lacrosse (12 inches), Lewiston (8.4 inches) and Winchester, Idaho (8.2 inches), Grand Coulee Dam (5 inches) and Odessa (5 inches).


One runway at Sea-Tac Airport is open for flights to arrive and depart, but many flights remain canceled or delayed.

Check Spokane flight status by visiting the Spokane International Airport link at the end of this story.


Most of Spokane International Airport’s flights to and from Seattle were cancelled or delayed this morning as Sea-Tac Airport crews worked to de-ice its runways.

A news release on the Sea-Tac website said all runways had been closed and crews were working as fast as possible to re-open them.

Freezing rain has followed heavy snow in Western Washington, causing icy roads and power outages.

The National Weather Service has issued an ice storm warning until noon today for the Seattle area and southwest Washington.

Sea-Tac Airport Spokeswoman Charla Skaggs told KOMO Radio airlines would likely cancel flights because taxiways remain a problem even as runways are deiced.

The Transportation Department has closed Highway 18 near Issaquah because of falling trees.

The ice storm warning covers Seattle, Tacoma, Bremerton, the east Puget Sound lowlands, Olympia, the lower Chehalis Valley and central coast, including Hoquiam.

Forecasters expect up to four-tenths of an inch of ice before temperatures rise above freezing by afternoon.

To check the status of your flight, visit Spokane International Airport’s website.