As round after round of winter storms slammed the Inland Northwest, one uncomplicated instrument in particular quickly jumped to the top of many must-have lists: a shovel. Whether on the front of a plow or in the hands of area residents, shovels have become an essential component in the winter that wouldn’t let up.
“I’ve been here 20 years and I’ve never seen snow fall this much. And it just doesn’t seem to stop,” said city of Post Falls street supervisor Jim Porter, adding that he’s heard the area has received more than 70 inches of snow and counting as of Monday morning.
City and county road crews have maintained steady work schedules of 12-hour shifts since the storms hit just over two weeks ago. While the initial flurries and windy conditions created havoc in keeping some of Rathdrum Prairie’s roads clear, warmer weather over the weekend offered some breathing room for snowplows, sanders and de-icing trucks to sweep the roadways.
“We are starting to use de-icer, and it seems to be working,” Porter said.
However, he added, a new set of problems has cropped up since the River City’s fleet of snowplows and other heavy snow-removing machines has been running almost nonstop over the last two weeks. Four of the city’s dozen snowplows have broken down, one irreparably. “When you run them so long, they are going to break down,” Porter said.
For the most part, the main arterials from south of the Spokane River to Spirit Lake have been kept clear, even as more storms rolled in throughout the week. Varying temperatures, though, generated new hazards as warmer weather melted the snow and massive puddles formed across some streets, while nights brought on freezing conditions and black ice.
“It certainly generated a lot of ice,” said Post Falls Highway District commissioner Lynn Humphreys, though adding that the above-freezing weather spell gave road crews a chance to play catch-up and clear snow to the shoulders of streets. The highway district, which includes most of the Rathdrum Prairie’s network of streets, maintains more than 400 miles of two-lane roadways with 14 snow-removal machines.
The warmer weather, he added, “gave us a little bit of a break. … It actually made it better, a lot better. But it’s winter in North Idaho; we’re going to deal with snow regardless.”
Humphreys advised that people be patient with the snowplows, as well as with the driving conditions. “The biggest advice I would have to say is if you don’t have to drive, don’t, and slow down if you do. Some drivers think they are invincible, regardless of the conditions.”
Farther north in Spirit Lake, Mayor Roxy Martin said that while the streets are clear, it’s the homes that are in the most danger. The heavy snowpack and wetter weather has combined for precarious loads on the roofs of many buildings.
“We must have five feet of snow,” Martin said Monday morning, adding that last year’s heavy snowfall was not as swift and substantial as this winter, yet still toppled many carports in the area. Her advice? “If they haven’t shoveled off their roof by now, they better start worrying. And another important reminder is if they do have a fire hydrant by their house, try to keep it clear.”
As for the city’s unobstructed streets, she said it’s all thanks to the tireless efforts of the local road crew. “We’ve been very busy,” Martin said, adding that the group hasn’t taken a day off since the snow started to fall. “I couldn’t ask for a better group of guys.”
Out on the streets across the Rathdrum Prairie, residents are left to deal with the record-setting snowfall and subsequent cleanup. Nowhere is that more evident than at local hardware stores, where snow-removal gear has become hard to come by in recent weeks.
“We’ve probably gone through 500 plus shovels,” Ken Rowe, a supervisor at Ace Hardware Ranch and Home in Post Falls, said in a Monday morning phone interview. While a shipment of snow removal equipment was expected later in the week, Rowe said, “Currently we are out of everything. I think the storm caught everyone off guard, no one was really prepared for it.”
One of the biggest complaints residents have about the city and county snow removal has been the end-of-the-driveway berms that come with plowing the streets, Spirit Lake Mayor Martin said. “So some people have a short fuse,” she said. “I know people get upset with the berms, but that’s the way it is.”
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