City plow crews worked throughout the day and into the night Wednesday after an overnight winter storm dumped several inches of snow across the region, jamming roadways and delaying schools.
The winter weather led to multiple vehicle crashes across the city and county, including a fatal wreck on Interstate 90 about 20 miles west of Spokane.
Several school districts in the Inland Northwest delayed or canceled school Wednesday as the first significant snowstorm in more than a month hit Spokane and Coeur d’Alene.
Medical Lake, Reardan-Edwall, Great Northern and Nine Mile Falls school districts in Spokane County announced two-hour delays to the start of school. Cheney Public Schools announced it would be closed.
Most larger districts, including Spokane, Coeur d’Alene, Mead and Central Valley, opened on time.
About 5 inches of snow fell as of 5:30 a.m. outside the National Weather Service office on the West Plains, said meteorologist Joey Clevenger. The weather service received reports of 4 to 5 inches on the North Side. More fell in the Sandpoint area. Reports there included 6 and 12 inches, he said.
The region should see a break from snow Thursday, said Bryce Williams, forecaster with the National Weather Service in Spokane. However, wet weather could return Friday and Saturday, as rain mixes with snow. And plunging temperatures Saturday night, marking the arrival of an Arctic front, could make for hazardous driving early next week.
“We would caution people to take it slow Sunday morning, as the leftover rain and below-freezing temperatures could lead to a hard freeze,” Williams said.
On Wednesday, city roads were treacherous in some spots, including many hills and arterials. On the South Hill, Maple Street saw multiple crashes and slideoffs. Other hills, including Grand Boulevard and Bernard Street, were slick and full of snow as drivers slowed down to navigate.
The Washington State Patrol reported multiple crashes on “just about every major roadway,” said Trooper Jeff Sevigney, WSP spokesman.
“Mostly folks are driving too fast for conditions,” he said.
Troopers reported a “serious injury crash” about 20 miles west of Spokane at milepost 259 of I-90, where a car had rolled, trapping a person underneath at about 9 a.m. Shortly after, the driver of the car, Tamara L. Wilkins, of Yakima, was pronounced dead.
The car’s two passengers were transported to a Spokane hospital with injuries that were not life-threatening, said Sevigney, of WSP.
Mountain passes were open. At Snoqualmie Pass on I-90, the Washington State Department of Transportation said chains were required on all vehicles except those with all-wheel drive. At Fourth of July Pass east of Coeur d’Alene, the Idaho Transportation Department reported snow and slush on the roadway, though surface friction was “good.”
At about 7:30 a.m., the city tweeted that 53 pieces of snow equipment were out on city streets as part of a planned full-city plow. Marlene Feist, city spokeswoman, said hills, arterials and routes near hospitals and schools would be areas of focus first. An order of residential neighborhoods to be plowed will be posted on the city’s website.
Those efforts continued throughout the day, with major arterials and secondary roads cleared by midafternoon. Crews continued to plow hillsides and residential neighborhoods into the evening, and were offered overtime to work 10- to-12 hour shifts, said Martha Lou Wheatley-Billeter, Spokane County public works information and outreach manager.
Deicers were out Tuesday night ahead of the snow. Plowing efforts began at 6 a.m. once enough snow had accumulated, according to the city’s Twitter account.
Wheatley-Billeter said property owners should keep snow and ice cleared out of storm drains and dry wells. “With temperatures going up and down, the water has to go somewhere,” she said.