Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Blowing and drifting snow leading to several road closures

By Ryan Overton

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.
On Tuesday, Feb. 26, I rode with our crews on SR 27. Because of the conditions, it took two plow trucks, a grader and blower almost all day to do two passes of a 10-mile stretch on the closed highway. We were finally able to reopen the road in the afternoon, but it was closed again nine hours later. Thank you Mother Nature! We saw some snow banks that were more than 12-feet tall!

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.
We don't close roads without reason. Our road crews evaluate the safety of the roadway surface as well as the weather conditions and visibility before making that call. But when we do close a road, we need the public to comply. When someone drives around a barrier or sign indicating a closed road, they sometimes get stuck and our crews have to go in and help. Not only does this put our crews at risk, it takes them away from other work like clearing and treating other highways.

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.

2 comments:

Unknown said...

I could use that at home to open our road.
Nice job and be safe. Thank you for all you do.

Unknown said...

Great videos and thanks for the updates on Eastern Washington conditions Ryan Overton.

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