Spokane city and county officials pleaded for the public’s patience and assistance ahead of a wintry weekend.
In anticipation of the first significant snowfall of the season – and of her administration – Mayor Nadine Woodward said in a news conference Thursday the city is ready for the impending storm, but warned “it’s going to be a little bit more complicated” than usual.
Due to the back-to-back nature of snow events expected over the weekend, city officials predicted it could take days to fully plow the 2,200 lane-miles of city road.
“It will be a full effort, 24 hours a day,” Woodward pledged.
The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm watch for Friday when 5 to 8 inches of snow is expected in the city.
Thursday evening, city crews were expected to be deployed to pre-treat roads with de-icer. City equipment was tuned up and ready to go while reserves of de-icer and sand were sufficient ahead of the storm, Woodward said.
It’s just the beginning of a marathon weekend, during which dozens of employees will work around the clock, according to Woodward. The city will staff its My Spokane 311 system from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday and provide updates on its social media pages.
It takes the city three days to fully plow its roads following a typical snowfall. But with a new round of snow predicted Sunday, that process could extend into next week.
“When you have to do a second or third pass over those major arterials, especially, that definitely delays what we hope would be a three-day (process),” Woodward said.
Streets Director Clint Harris asked residents to park on the odd-numbered side of the road to make way for road crews. Downtown, Harris said, the city plans to require cars be cleared from parking bays and the street from midnight to 6 a.m. to allow for snow removal. The city will give notice before enacting the parking restrictions.
Spokane County officials were prepping for the storm, too.
Martha Lou Wheatley-Billeter, a spokeswoman for the county’s public works department, said crews will work 24/7 over the weekend, plowing emergency routes and arterials before moving on to side streets. The county is responsible for nearly 5,000 lane-miles of road.
With back-to-back storms in the forecast, county officials said their snow removal process also might take longer than the usual three days.
“Please understand that it’s impossible to clear the entire road system in one day, always stay 50 feet behind heavy equipment and never try to pass us on the right side,” Andy Schenk, the county’s maintenance and operations superintendent, said in a news release.
In an email to customers Thursday, Avista Utilities said it was preparing for the possibility of power outages from the snowstorm.
“Should we experience outages, we are ready and waiting to respond as soon as we’re safely able to do so,” the utility said.
The bulk of the snow will come Friday with the evening commute being heavily affected, said Rocco Pelatti, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Spokane office.
“The problem we have here is, some of the models have been showing some of the pavement temperatures going above freezing for a little bit,” Pelatti said.
While the air temperatures are expected to be below freezing, when snow hits the warm pavement it will melt and then freeze as the pavement cools, creating a sheet of ice, Pelatti explained.
Temperatures in Spokane on Friday are expected to range from 33 to 36 degrees.
The storm will bring a break from the breezy weather the Spokane area experienced earlier this week. Winds out of the south are expected to be 5 to 15 mph with gusts of 25 mph, Pelatti said.
After the bulk of the snow falls, temperatures should remain cold Saturday with small amounts of snow.
“It looks like it’s picking up again Sunday night into Monday morning where that’s the next big burst,” Pelatti said.
The second storm pattern will bring an arctic air mass, Pelatti said.
“The fact of the matter is it’s going to be substantially cooler,” Pelatti said. “We do get cold here all the time, but that’s kind of pipe-bursting weather if we don’t take the right precautions.”
Tuesday is expected to see a low temperature of 1 degree and a high of 10. The air will get even colder Wednesday with a low of minus 5 and a high of 10.
The city is coordinating with service providers to ensure warming shelters have adequate capacity during the cold snap. Though agencies have reported extra capacity in recent weeks, extreme cold tends to drive up demand.
Light, fluffy snow often falls from the edges of an arctic air mass like the one expected to move into Spokane on Sunday, Pelatti said.
“For places like ski areas, it’s great because it’s really fluffy,” Pelatti said.
The heavy, wet snow that fell earlier this winter contributed to conditions that caused an avalanche that killed three people and injured five others on Silver Mountain on Tuesday.
Snow Sunday and through the early part of next week should be “pretty darn light,” Pelatti said.
“If we get any snow after this cold next week, it will be great powder,” Pelatti added.
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