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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Friday snow dump causes more than 100 collisions in Spokane, cancels classes

A bus passenger waits for a ride outside the Spokane Transit Authority Plaza during a snowstorm on Friday, Jan. 10, 2020, in downtown Spokane. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
By Thomas Clouse and Chad Sokol The Spokesman-Review

The first major snowstorm of the season brought more than half a foot of powder to the Spokane area on Friday, creating hazardous driving conditions, prompting colleges to cancel afternoon classes and forcing Spokane Public Schools to call off after-school activities.

The National Weather Service said more than 6 inches of snow had fallen at the Spokane International Airport by 6 p.m.

Washington State Patrol troopers had responded to dozens of crashes and slideoffs by noon, including a three-vehicle collision on U.S. Highway 395 in Whitman County that blocked traffic in both directions, sent an SUV rolling into a ditch and left four people with injuries. Traffic on Interstate 90 was brought to a crawl at about 6 p.m. as several vehicles spun out on Sunset Hill.

Several more people were injured at about 1 p.m. in a four-vehicle crash on I-90 near Kingston, Idaho. The westbound lanes were partially blocked, according to the Idaho State Police. Separately, the Idaho Department of Transportation was requiring all commercial vehicles to use chains on Fourth of July Pass east of Coeur d’Alene.

Authorities in both states urged people to slow down, increase their following distance or avoid driving altogether.

“We have people driving too fast for roadway conditions,” WSP Trooper Jeff Sevigney said. “We’ve got crashes all over.”

Roads within city limits were hazardous, too. The Spokane Police Department said officers had responded to more than 100 collisions by 6:30 p.m.

Stevens Street, a main arterial on the lower South Hill, was closed at Sixth Avenue for more than an hour Friday as dozens of cars slid and failed to make it up the incline. Motorists struggled to climb the hill on alternative routes as well.

And shortly before 5 p.m., several disabled vehicles were blocking northbound lanes of Division Street between Foothills Drive and Bridgeport Avenue, according to the Washington Department of Transportation.

Eastern Washington University closed its Cheney and Spokane campuses at 2 p.m. because of the snowstorm. Gonzaga University and Washington State University’s Spokane campus also canceled afternoon classes.

Spokane Public Schools let students out early Friday, at about 2:15 p.m. Extracurricular activities, including all Greater Spokane League high school sporting events, were postponed.

A message from city spokeswoman Marlene Feist said crews began plowing, sanding and de-icing arterials when snow began falling at about 8:30 a.m. They stepped up operations and began clearing residential streets at 5:30 p.m., using 16 plows equipped with snow gates to avoid leaving berms at the end of driveways, attempting to clear residential streets even as the weekend promised to bring more snow.

Vehicles should be parked on the odd side of the street in residential areas to make room for plows, Feist said. The city also imposed parking restrictions downtown. In the area bound by Maple Street, Division Street, the Spokane River and I-90, on-street parking will be prohibited from midnight Saturday to 6 a.m. Sunday.

Feist said crews would work around-the-clock until all streets are clear. A “full-city plow” usually takes about three days, but with a second snow event in Sunday’s forecast, she stated that the process might take longer this time.

“The city also has planned for the needs of its most vulnerable citizens, with shelters and warming centers equipped to take additional people now and when temperatures are expected to drop next week,” Feist wrote.

Spokane County crews also began clearing snow Friday morning.

“We have more than 70 pieces of equipment, ranging from plows and graders to sanding and de-icing trucks, keeping emergency routes and primary arterials as clear as possible,” Andy Schenk, the county’s maintenance and operations superintendent, said in a statement.

“Our crews will work throughout the weekend and around the clock to make as much progress as possible,” Schenk said. “Please slow down, stay 50 feet behind our equipment and never try to pass us on the right.”

While the storm hurt several businesses, including downtown restaurants, the storm was a boon to the General Store, at 2424 N. Division St., according to general manager Mark McKee.

“We’ve been selling shovels, ice melt, snow blowers, ice scrapers and brushes, gloves, hats and coats. All that stuff,” McKee said. “It’s been pretty brisk.”

McKee said he had his managers study sales trends for the last five years to make sure the store had enough of the winter supplies.

“We know it will hit. It’s just a matter of time. Last year it was February,” McKee said. “This year, it’s just hitting early. It’s a fun time to be in retail.”

Mark Turner, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said he had measured 0.8 inches of snow at the Spokane International Airport before noon. His office got reports early Friday that the town of Republic already had about 4 inches. At the time, the Priest Lake area only had about an inch, Turner said.

As forecast, the heaviest snowfall blanketed the city in the afternoon and evening.

The snowfall was expected to taper off Saturday morning, but Turner said the Spokane area should receive an additional inch and a half by Sunday.

“Sunday is a little too far out to put fine point on it, but it’s going to be nasty again,” he said. “I think we’ll see several more inches of accumulating snow.”

Temperatures were expected to reach into the mid-30s Saturday and Sunday, then drop significantly when the work week begins.

“On Tuesday, the high temperatures will be in the single digits, and the lows could be on the other side of zero,” Turner said.