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Winter delivers its first big punch

Tue., Jan. 8, 2013

Heavy snows bring slides, rash of accidents

The first major snowstorm of the winter sent dozens of drivers sliding off roads Monday morning as plow crews spread out across the Spokane and Coeur d’Alene region to clear main roads and residential streets.

Six inches of snow or more blanketed urban areas.

Light snow is possible today before 10 a.m. before warming conditions change precipitation to rain. Mountain areas could see heavy snow through Wednesday.

Getting rid of Monday’s accumulation became the main order of business.

Spokane Mayor David Condon authorized the hiring of private contractors to help clear snow with graders. The city had about 50 plows and drivers out working on Monday before the contractors got on the job.

Spokane County had 90 pieces of equipment working on its 2,500 miles of roads.

Spokane Valley was following suit with plans to clear residential streets on hills and other residential areas if necessary.

In Coeur d’Alene, plow work was 90 percent finished by 3 p.m. Monday and crews were returning to main arterials for a second pass. More than 6 inches of snow fell, and residential streets were being cleared, said City Administrator Wendy Gabriel.

Post Falls was expected to finish its plowing of residential streets by Monday evening.

Agencies have priority systems that favor emergency routes, major arterials and bus routes before moving to secondary arterials and hilly residential areas. Flatter residential terrain is plowed last.

Residents were reminded to clear sidewalks so that people who walk, especially schoolchildren, will be able to do so, officials said.

A hard freeze is expected by Friday, so any snow or slush left on pavement will turn into ice.

The Washington State Department of Transportation had about 100 pieces of snow-removal equipment out on state highways in the seven-county eastern region, said Al Gilson, WSDOT spokesman in Spokane.

Highways south of Spokane had some drifting snow in places. Otherwise, compact snow and ice was widespread across the region in the morning.

Milder air at midday helped crews clear off major routes and allowed them to move to secondary streets and roads.

In Spokane, all vehicles were ordered moved off arterials and bus routes until they are plowed.

In residential areas, the city wants all vehicles parked on the even-numbered sides of streets in advance of plowing. Vehicles should be moved to the side of the street where the house numbers end with 0, 2, 4, 6 or 8.

Last year, the city got poor compliance with the requirement that vehicles be moved to one side of the street during plowing efforts.

Browne’s Addition will be plowed on an announced schedule in which vehicles must be moved off streets set for plowing during the announced times.

Residents can help out by clearing snow from fire hydrants and by helping neighbors, especially those who are elderly or have disabilities, in removing snow from their driveways and sidewalks.

Snow should not be plowed or blown onto public streets and alleys, officials said. Under lighter snowstorms, that is not a big problem, but when heavy snow accumulates, moving snow into the right of way can cause trouble keeping thoroughfares and sidewalks cleared.

Slide-off accidents were occurring at a steady pace Monday morning and during the first part of the afternoon.

In Spokane County, there were 83 non-injury and 33 injury accidents from 4 a.m. through about 4:30 p.m. Another 40 vehicles got stuck or were blocking traffic.

Drivers were advised to stay home if they could.

Police were unable to respond to minor accidents.

“If you get in a fender bender, you’re just going to have to exchange information and move on,” Spokane police Officer Teresa Fuller said Monday morning. “You’re not going to get any response anytime soon.”

A semitruck reportedly slid out on the Argonne Road hill near Columbia Drive about 10 a.m. Traffic was being held up while the accident was cleared.

Spokane Public Schools reported that 20 buses got stuck during morning rounds. Some buses ran without chains because the heavy accumulation came as a surprise. A school bus at Monroe Street and 11th Avenue slid into an improperly parked car, according to Terren Roloff, district spokeswoman.

In Idaho, accidents on Fourth of July Pass on Interstate 90 restricted traffic to a single lane about noon. Transportation officials reported multiple slide-offs there.

WSDOT spokesman Gilson said I-90 from Spokane to the Idaho state line was wet with slush in places by noon. However, travel was foggy on I-90 in the Columbia Basin to the west and very snowy during the morning on Snoqualmie Pass.

Snow drifts were reported along U.S. Highway 195 and state Highway 26 in the Palouse region, Gilson said.

Schools closed Monday in Freeman, Medical Lake, Cheney, Reardan-Edwall, Great Northern and Davenport school districts.

Davenport initially announced a delayed start, but officials ended up canceling classes.

Christian-Heritage School also closed.

Rain is expected after 10 a.m. today and again on Wednesday, but rainfall amounts are not expected to be great.

To the north, the storm today and Wednesday is likely to bring heavy snow to the mountains of Northeast Washington and far North Idaho.

A new winter storm watch was issued for mountains north of Deer Park and Athol, with accumulations of 5 to 15 inches at upper elevations, but only 1 to 3 inches in valley areas, forecasters said.

A cold front on Wednesday evening could bring drier conditions. Temperatures will drop back to the low 30s on Thursday and then to the low 20s for highs on Friday through Sunday. Lows will be in the teens starting Thursday night.

A northerly flow will allow cold air to seep southward from Canada.

The chance of snow will be in the 20 to 30 percent range through the weekend, although forecasters said their computers are pointing to the chance of a snowstorm over the weekend.

Community weather observers reported to the National Weather Service that 5 to 6 inches of snow had accumulated between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. at numerous locations in the area.

Observers in Airway Heights reported 7 inches of snow at 10 a.m.

In Kootenai County, observers reported 3 to 4 inches by 7 to 8 a.m.

Monday’s accumulation beat this season’s previous snowfalls of 3 inches each, once in November and once in December.

Staff writer Nicole Hensley contributed to this report.

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