Live updates: Winter storm forces mountain passes – and local school – closures
Jan. 6, 2022 Updated Thu., Jan. 6, 2022 at 4:11 p.m.
First the passes over the Cascades shut down. Then, one by one, area school districts began announcing delays and closures as a winter storm drifted across the Inland Northwest overnight, bringing with it several inches of snow.
Here are the live updates on current conditions across the Inland Northwest.
CURRENT ROAD CONDITIONS (Updated 1:47 p.m.)
Difficult road conditions were a factor in a few crashes early Thursday morning, said Trooper Ryan Senger with the Washington State Patrol. While there were a few slide-offs and vehicles blocking the roadway by 7 a.m. there weren’t a significant amount of collisions, he said.
“It’s slick,” Senger said. “I would say snow-covered in most places.”
Senger encourages people to stay home if possible.
“If you don’t have to go to work or you don’t have to be out on the roads, try not to be,” Senger said. “If you do have to go out, increase your following distance. Slow down for changing road conditions.”
Senger also reminded drivers to move over for crashed vehicles and cars on the shoulder of the road or in the ditch.
In Idaho, a box truck traveling north on State Highway 97 Thursday morning ended up in Lake Coeur d’Alene, according to Idaho State Police.
ISP Communications Director Lynn Hightower said the crash happened shortly after 8 a.m. near South Beauty Creek Road southeast of Coeur d’Alene.
She said the driver of the vehicle was taken to a nearby hospital with what appeared to be a non-life threatening injury. The other occupant did not appear to be injured, she said.
Hightower said the two people got out of the truck, which was carrying construction materials, by the time ISP troopers arrived. She was unsure what caused the truck to enter the lake but that roads at the time were snow covered and slick, Hightower said. The crash is under investigation.
Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Ryan Higgins said Beauty Bay, which is where the truck ended up in the lake, is “pretty shallow” this time of year. He estimated the truck was in about 4 feet of water.
SPOKANE, SPOKANE VALLEY BEGIN ROUND-THE-CLOCK PLOWING; WSDOT CLOSES PASSES (Updated 1:30 p.m.)
Despite significant snowfall, the city of Spokane has not been forced to close down any roads or seen a significant number of vehicle accidents, according to city officials.
The challenge on city roads Thursday morning is not slickness as much as the sheer amount of snow.
“This is just deep snow that’s hard to get through, especially if you have a low-profile vehicle,” said city spokesperson Kirstin Davis.
City crews have been working around-the-clock since Wednesday, Davis said, when they began to treat city roads with de-icer and clear old snow to make room for Thursday’s storm. The big question road crews have now is what the afternoon will bring.
It appears snow will at some point transition to rain, which could have varying impacts on city roads. If the rain is heavy, it could melt and clear the snow on city roads. But if the rain is brief or insignificant, it could leave a mess that refreezes and creates new problems for road crews. Rain could also saturate the snow and make it heavier, and thereby increasing the amount of time it takes city plows to clear the road.
The focus thus far has been on plowing arterials and highly trafficked roads, including those around hospitals. It’s unclear when plowing will begin on residential streets, which largely depends on when the snow lets up.
“They’re on primary routes, and they’ll just continue doing those,” Davis said. “They get done with them and it’s basically time to start over again because of how much is coming down.”
The city’s crews are working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week right now to plow all 2,200 miles of streets in Spokane. It’s estimated it will take about three days to complete.
The Spokane County Public Works Department said plows would keep primary arterials clear Thursday, according to an early morning news release. Crews planned to work into the evening to start plowing secondary roads. Crews expect to start plowing residential areas by the weekend, according to the news release.
In Spokane Valley, the city also initiated a full residential plow at 10 a.m.
“The full plow is necessary due to the existing quantities of snow and ice on the local roads coupled with the snow that fell overnight,” the city said in a news release, adding that it will take approximately 48 hours to plow all 624 miles of roads within the city limits.
Meanwhile up in the Cascade Mountains, the Washington State Department of Transportation has declared that conditions on the passes are too treacherous for crews to work on clearing roads and, as a result, will be keeping Snoqualmie, Stevens, White and Blewett passes closed through Friday, possibly Saturday.
According to the National Weather Service in Seattle, 20 inches of snow fell on Stevens Pass in the last 17 hours, with half of that falling between 3 a.m. and 9 a.m. Thursday.
SPOKANE AIRPORT REPORTING HANDFUL OF FLIGHT DELAYS, CANCELLATIONS (Updated 9:25 a.m.)
There are a handful of flight delays and cancellations being reported at Spokane International Airport.
Five flights scheduled for Thursday morning by Alaska Airlines, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines with destinations in Seattle, Everett and Portland were showing as cancelled on the airport website.
Four additional Alaska, Delta and Southwest Airlines flights scheduled to arrive from Seattle, Portland and Denver were also cancelled as of 9:30 a.m.
Meanwhile out at Fairchild Air Force Base, operations were on a two-hour delay with the exception of mission essential personnel.
POWER OUTAGES (Updated 8:32 a.m.)
Inland Power reports power has been restored in northeast Spokane, southwest Bonner counties.
Inland Power and Light previously reported about 7 a.m. that more than 600 customers were without power.
The outage area included Mount Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park, which took to Facebook to celebrate power being restored and encourage people to come out later to enjoy some fresh powder.
Avista Utilities reported nearly 200 customers without power, mostly near Sandpoint. The Pend Oreille Public Utilities District reported 300 customers without power. Northern Lights in North Idaho reported 45 customers out in Idaho and western Montana.
SCHOOL DELAYS, CLOSURES (Updated 8:21 a.m.)
Most Spokane County school districts have delayed or canceled classes as a result of at least four inches of snow that fell overnight, with at least two more inches on the way to Spokane.
School districts in Spokane County that have canceled classes are Central Valley, Cheney, Freeman, Liberty, Medical Lake, Reardan-Edwall, Riverside, Tekoa and West Valley.
Districts in Spokane County that announced two-hour delays are Deer Park, Mead and Spokane.
East Valley School District announced a 90-minute delay.
Gonzaga Prep canceled in-person classes, but will operate online.
Nine Mile Falls School District said it will operate on a normal schedule on Thursday.
Down in the Freeman School District, Superintendent Randy Russell was keeping his sense of humor over his district’s closure due to the snow storm.
COVID-19 TESTING SITE CLOSED (Updated 11:05 a.m.)
Snow has forced the closure of the COVID-19 testing site at Spokane Falls Community College.
A beam supporting the drive-thru structure collapsed under the weight of the snow, according to a news release from the Spokane Regional Health District. A repair team is on the way, but it’s unclear when the site will be able to reopen.
Kelli Hawkins, a spokeswoman for the health district, said there were no reports of injuries at the site.
Staff with Discovery Health MD, operators of the mass testing site, are relocating as they’re able to a testing site at the Spokane County Fair & Expo Center. Appointments for testing there have been filled for Thursday as a result of accommodating those who had appointments at the community college, the health district said.
More information about testing sites is available at the Spokane Regional Health District’s website.
HOW MUCH SNOW HAS FALLEN? (Updated 12:13 p.m.)
Parts of Spokane Valley by noon reported seven inches, and 4 ½ inches was seen at the Spokane International Airport, said Robin Fox, meteorologist at Spokane’s National Weather Service office.
Fox said as warm air brought higher temperatures to Spokane it could also bring more snow, plus rain and a chance of sleet. “We could potentially see another one to two inches on top of this,” Fox said.
Steve Bodnar, also a meteorologist at Spokane’s National Weather Service office said Wenatchee reported 20 inches of snowfall. Leavenworth was at 22.5 inches, Methow Valley had 18 inches overnight and East Wenatchee reported 6 inches at midnight with the expectation it was likely much higher as of Thursday morning, he said.
The 24-hour record for snowfall in Wenatchee is 17.7 inches, set back on December 9, 1971.
Spokane this year has received about 7 inches more snow than normal, which is about 16 inches, Bodnar said. Between Dec. 1, 2020 and Jan. 6, 2021, 17.7 inches were reported. In that same period this year, Spokane had 23.2 inches of snowfall, he said.
“That’s pretty tough around here to do,” Bodnar said.
WEATHER FORECAST (Updated 9:10 a.m.)
Light snow was expected to fall throughout the morning Thursday, said Steve Bodnar, a meteorologist at Spokane’s National Weather Service Office. Another two to three inches “at least” were predicted in Spokane, with chances for rain or freezing rain by the late afternoon, he said.
“That will potentially create a few problems because you’ll see that snow turning into slush … I know from experience when it becomes slush I personally find it becomes harder to navigate than cold snow,” Bodnar said.
Temperatures hovered early Thursday around 25 degrees and were expected to stay there until the afternoon, Bodnar said. By Thursday night Spokane was likely to sit at a freezing temperature, and then by Friday afternoon climb into the forties, he said.
While Thursday’s snowfall was significant, it is unlikely to top the record for the day. The most snow ever received on a Jan. 6 in Spokane is 10.4 inches in 1950, Bodnar said.
Reporters Sydney Brown, Garrett Cabeza, Emma Epperly, Kip Hill, Adam Shanks and Editor Jonathan Brunt contributed to this report
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