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

Snow patrol: Riding along with a Spokane police officer during Thursday morning’s blizzard

Spokane Police Department Sgt. Stephen Anderson gets out of his patrol car and helps control traffic as an STA bus gains traction in the snow on Thursday, Jan 6, 2022, in Spokane, Wash.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

Fat snowflakes fall onto Sgt. Stephen Anderson’s windshield as he turns left onto a pure white Monroe Street near the Spokane County Courthouse.

It’s 7:30 a.m. during a snowstorm on Thursday, and the Spokane Police Department patrol supervisor has already been driving up and down, back and forth across north Spokane for an hour.

When conditions are this snowy, Anderson has one expectation.

“The day is dominated by collisions,” he said.

Seconds later, a Spokane Transit Authority articulated bus – the extra-long kind that bends in the middle – is trying to turn left onto Boone Avenue and only partially succeeding.

Its back half is slipping over the snow and sliding toward Anderson’s driver-side door. He deftly drives forward and the bus’s tail end swings by, missing him by inches.

“Right on queue,” Anderson said, “quite literally as I’m talking about it.”

He gets out to check on the bus, which is stuck in the middle of the intersection, wheels spinning uselessly. It gains traction after a few moments and Anderson hops back in his black Ford Interceptor sedan.

Scenes like this might play out hundreds of times in Spokane during a major snowstorm. Crashes are common. Anderson assumes the patrol officers on his team will spend most of their days visiting crash, after crash, after crash.

It’s a reasonable assumption.

In the early morning, Spokane’s plows haven’t hit many of the roads, and the snow is falling so thick it’s nearly a total whiteout. There are few areas on the North Side where black asphalt is showing through the white snow or brown slush.

“I’m on the edge of the road – I don’t know where the lane is,” Anderson said. “Days like today, people just kind of create their own lanes.”

But by 9 a.m., when the bulk of morning commuters have left the roads, there haven’t been many crashes, relatively speaking. Snow is a nonfactor for the incidents Anderson’s working on. The streets are quiet, literally and metaphorically, due to the sound-muffling snow and lack of cars.

“I’m actually pleasantly surprised,” Anderson said.

Curvy hills tend to be dangerous for drivers in Spokane snowstorms, but even typical hotspots like TJ Meenach Drive have been relatively calm, although cars are still sliding and spinning their wheels when climbing up the hill.

Anderson said there are a few keys to staying safe on snowy Spokane roads.

Avoid distractions and don’t look at your phone while driving. Make sure you have extra space between your car and the vehicle in front of you, so you’ll have enough room to stop even if you skid. If you’re not a strong driver, stay off the roads or try to carpool with a better driver.

And accept the fact that commutes will be longer.

“A lot of our accidents are due to inadequate time management,” Anderson said. “Give yourself extra time to get where you need to get.

“Slower is better. … Getting to your destination is far more important than how fast you get there.”