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Snow, cold temperatures plague Northwest

By Nicholas K. Geranios

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Feb. 24 2011 5:54 p.m. MST

Despite driving snow, mailman John Jackson walks his route, Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2011, in Tacoma, Wash. Seattle, Tacoma, and the rest of the Pacific Northwest were bracing Wednesday for dealing with snow and cold temperatures from a winter storm.

Ted S. Warren, Associated Press

SPOKANE, Wash. — Snow and icy temperatures plagued much of the Northwest on Thursday, snarling traffic and shutting down schools from Oregon to Idaho.

A late winter storm dropped more than a foot of snow in the Spokane region Thursday, and the National Weather Service warned of unusually cold temperatures with wind chill factors more than 20 degrees below zero.

Subzero temperatures also were forecast through the weekend in parts of eastern Washington and northern Idaho.

Spokane schools, Gonzaga University and Eastern Washington University in Cheney were closed Thursday, as were federal courts in Spokane and the downtown post office. Many smaller school districts also closed for the day.

Temperatures were in single digits Thursday morning, but winds gusting more than 29 mph dropped wind chill factors below zero.

Snow started falling in the region Wednesday morning, and more than 80 traffic accidents were reported by Wednesday night, the Spokane County sheriff's office said. Wrecks snarled roads during the Thursday morning commute.

"Two weeks of good driving conditions have cost us in caution," said sheriff's spokesman Dave Reagan.

Spokane temperatures were expected to fall to 4 below zero Thursday night. Highs are normally in the 40s this time of year.

The state Department of Transportation said it had 500 trucks across the state plowing snow and treating roads with chemicals to prevent icing.

"Our crews have been working 24/7 shifts to address this late-winter storm by pre-treating roadways and plowing," said Chris Christopher, WSDOT director of maintenance and operations. "We will continue on this schedule over the next 24 hours."

Over the past three days, Interstate 90 at Snoqualmie Pass has received more than 38 inches of snow, the agency said.

The weather was also cold in Western Washington, where the Weather Service warned that temperatures in Seattle on Friday could sink below the record of 22 for that date set in 1962.

Snow and icy roads may have been a factor in a number of serious traffic accidents in Western Washington. Police say a man was killed when his SUV left a road in Auburn early Thursday and slammed into a tree. A head-on collision on snowy Highway 101 Wednesday near Port Angeles killed Hugh McLennan, 83, of Port Angeles. The other driver was treated at a hospital for neck and back injuries.

In Auburn, a Washington State Patrol car on a slick Highway 512 ramp was hit by a truck at about 2:30 a.m. Thursday and pushed into another car. The trooper suffered a minor injury, but no one else was hurt.

Dozens of school districts in Western Washington canceled or delayed classes Thursday.

In Oregon, a dusting of snow, ranging from a trace to about 2 inches in the Portland metro area, was enough to close schools and cancel events across the city and its suburbs. In southern Oregon, school officials in Ashland and the Three Rivers School District also canceled classes.

The Weather Service reported more than 20 inches of snow had fallen in the Bonners Ferry, Idaho, area as of 9 a.m. Thursday. Ten to 12 inches of snow was reported in the greater Spokane area, while 10 inches was reported at Plain in Chelan County and more than 13 inches at Newport.

The Weather Service said wind chill factors could reach 30 below zero at Sandpoint in the Idaho Panhandle, and approach 20 below in the Spokane and Okanogan valleys.

"The combination of falling temperatures and continued breezy conditions will produce dangerously cold wind chills overnight," the Weather Service office in Spokane warned.

The city of Spokane declared a snow emergency, meaning snow plows will work around the clock and the city will hire private contractors to help clear snow.

A high of 10 degrees was reported Thursday morning at Spokane International Airport, with sustained winds of 15 mph making it feel like 7 below zero.

Temperatures are typically in the 40s this time of year. The last late February deep freeze in Spokane was in 1993, when temperatures reached 5 below zero.

The forecast called for lows of minus 4 on Friday morning and minus 9 on Saturday morning in Spokane. Highs will make it to the teens.

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