Trying. That's the word we are using to describe this month for Eastern Washington. We're on pace to see Spokane's second-highest snowfall for February and it just keeps on coming: as of Wednesday, Feb. 27, we have five highways – State Routes 27, 261, 21, 241 and 221 – closed because of severe winter weather including blowing and drifting snow and reduced visibility.
|Some of the drifting snow on SR 27 created snow banks more than 12 feet high.|
And conditions aren't getting better. Winds have been gusting, more snow is forecast and our crews are working hard to keep up. All of our current road closures are south of I-90 where the land is flatter with rolling hills, and the wind is able to travel freely and push snow around. We plow and clear a roadway only to have snow drift back in just minutes. In one instance, four feet of snow drifted back on the road within an hour.
In town, winds seem calmer, snow isn't drifting and people may think it's not that bad...but it is. Towns like Tekoa have buildings and trees to slow the rate of wind. Outside of town, the wind and blowing snow pass right through and over the rolling hills. This blows a significant amount of snow onto the highway and makes visibility tough, conditions that threaten public safety and lead to road closures.
Our crews are doing the best they can with the resources we have. For example, the Colfax maintenance facility is responsible for roughly 895 miles of road, including SR 27, and have about 35 road crew workers, with 20 trucks on the road at any given time. They can't be everywhere at once, so we base our response on priority for each roadway. For the Colfax region, US 195 is a high-priority roadway because of the level of traffic versus that on SR 27. They try to get everywhere they can, but it's no easy task.
It has been a trying month. Our crews are working around the clock to get roadways open and clear. We appreciate your patience and understanding as we work to do so. Hopefully March brings some relief for the Inland Northwest.