Dozens of vehicles were involved in multiple crashes on Interstate 90 just west of Spokane on Tuesday, shortly after a squall dumped heavy snow near Geiger Boulevard.
Washington State Patrol troopers estimated 50 to 100 vehicles were involved in the collisions, though no life-threatening injuries were reported, according to Trooper Jeff Sevigney.
“Mainly just fender benders and bent sheet metal,” Sevigney said. “Conditions changed rapidly. Unfortunately, folks didn’t adjust their speed in time, and once you have one crash it kind of starts a chain reaction.”
The freeway was reduced to one lane in each direction, but all lanes reopened at about 5:30 p.m.
The squall hit the West Plains after 1 p.m. and initially caused the full closure of the westbound lanes and a partial closure of eastbound lanes.
There were “multiple spinouts in both directions,” the state Department of Transportation reported on Twitter on Tuesday afternoon. “Slick conditions throughout the West Plains.”
Six people involved in the crashes were transported to area hospitals with minor injuries, according to Sevigney.
State troopers and transportation officials responded to the scene.
Due to the number of vehicles involved, first responders had exhausted the full list of tow trucks available and were waiting for trucks to return to the scene for a second round before reopening the road.
A temporary warming shelter was set up nearby for stranded motorists, Sevigney said.
The squall’s impact was isolated. Other parts of the area, including downtown Spokane, saw little or no snow.
Forecasters at the National Weather Service office in Spokane predicted some snow showers and flurries in the forecast, but did not expect those events to be so intense. About 90 minutes before it hit, the squall’s strength became apparent.
“As we started watching the radar, we could see they were a little bit stronger than we anticipated,” said Bob Tobin, a meteorologist.
Spokesman-Review reporter Chad Sokol contributed to this story.
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