A rapid change in weather that dropped snow on the Spokane area Wednesday afternoon contributed to 47 crashes in the region, plus one collision that involved 38 vehicles and was the largest crash in recent memory, officials said.
The scale of those weather-related crashes is a reminder to be cognizant of changing road conditions this time of year, said Trooper Jeff Sevigney, a Washington State Patrol spokesman.
Just before pileups on Interstate 90 formed at 2 p.m., light snow and mist turned to heavy snow and freezing fog over about 10 minutes, according to National Weather Service data from the Spokane airport. Visibility dropped from 1.5 miles to a quarter-mile, and the roads became slick as 0.6 inches of snow fell.
“The conditions just deteriorated quickly,” said NWS meteorologist Laurie Nisbet.
All told, 127 vehicles were involved in the crashes and 35 of the collisions occurred on I-90, Sevigney said. Six people were transported to local hospitals with injuries that were not life-threatening. Five of them were sent to Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center.
The 38-car crash on westbound I-90 near Geiger Boulevard was the largest crash Sevigney said he, and other officials he talked to, could remember. Sevigney has worked for WSP for 23 years.
“Drivers did not react quick enough to the change in conditions,” Sevigney said. “We’re fortunate that we didn’t have serious injures.”
For comparison, WSP responded to 39 crashes caused by icy roads this past March and 90 weather-related crashes on a day in March 2006, though most of those involved a single car. Sevigney said he has previously been involved in serious crash investigations involving as many as a dozen vehicles.
The damage to vehicles on Tuesday ranged from fender-benders to totaled vehicles, Sevigney said. At one point, WSP had dispatched all of the tow trucks it had available.
“Many of those operators towed a car and had to come back to get another one,” Sevigney said.
Local auto body shops are expecting an influx of damaged cars over the next two to four days as people communicate with insurance providers. A job could be as cheap as $400 if a side mirror needs to be replaced, but costs could reach upward of $35,000 if the car is totaled, one auto-body shop said.
River City Body & Paint had one damaged pickup from the Tuesday crashes in its shop on Wednesday morning. The bed of the truck needs to be replaced and will likely cost $12,000, a repair estimator said.
Flash’s Auto Body & Paint had a car from the crashes that would likely need about $15,000 worth of repairs, according to the shop’s office manager.
Sevigney said WSP will have regular patrols assisting drivers during Thanksgiving commutes throughout the weekend. WSP is also part of the border-to-border DUI emphasis patrols being conducted by agencies from Eastern Washington to Western Montana.
“We’re asking drivers to leave themselves extra travel time. Check road and weather conditions,” Sevigney said. “Around the next corner it might be frozen. There might be ice.”
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