Tri-Cities braces for snowstorm

By Loretto J. Hulse, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 18, 2012 

Snow shovels, ice melt and window scrapers were priority items on Mid-Columbians' shopping lists this week after experts predicted snow.

So far this winter, the region has been fortunate, as Mother Nature sent only a smattering of the white stuff. But spokespersons from the National Weather Service expected everyone in the Mid-Columbia to wake up to a white world this morning.

-- Here is the link to a slideshow presentation by the National Weather Service in Pendleton.

If not, it's only a matter of time. Western Washington residents have been slipping and sliding for the past couple of days, and the state Department of Transportation closed Snoqualmie Pass for several hours Tuesday for avalanche control -- and plan to do the same today on Stevens Pass.

At Commercial Tire in Pasco, manager Thad Sturtevant hasn't seen an inordinate number of customers buying snow tires this week.

"After Christmas, most people know historically that if we do get snow, it's not going to last. They just tough it out," Sturtevant said. "But we have seen some people in buying chains, especially if they're going over the passes. They sound like they're really nasty."

Warnings of perhaps eight inches of snow in the Tri-Cities spurred at least one resident Tuesday to splurge on a snowblower at Farmers Exchange in Kennewick.

"He was in here first thing this morning," said Keith Silliman, whose family has owned Farmers Exchange for more than 80 years. He took over the store from his parents, Ken and Arlene Silliman, almost 15 years ago.

Silliman said he normally sells 80 to 100 snowblowers in a year when it doesn't snow. But when it does -- last year, for example -- sales nearly double.

"I think people saw all the snow Spokane had last year and how everyone was running around trying to buy supplies from empty stores, Silliman said. "People here wanted to be prepared."

Down the street, at True Value Washington Hardware and Furniture, snow shovels and ice melt were hot sellers, along with ice scrapers and snow brushes for cars.

"We've had some good, cold winters these past three years, so I ordered a little heavier on cold weather items, said John Gravenslund, Washington Hardware's third-generation owner. "We have plenty of shovels, de-icer and all the supporting cast."

He's also selling a lot of RV anti-freeze and such car items as Heat, which binds with any water in a gas line, preventing freeze-ups, and windshield cleaner, something drivers use a lot once snow turns to slush.

"Thinking ahead is so much better, and around here it's a kind of built-in insurance," Silliman said. "If you buy the blowers, the shovels, the ice melt, chances are you won't need it for three to four years. But then you'll have it when we have that big storm."

Franklin County has been ready to deal with anything Mother Nature sends our way since Nov. 15.

"The sanders are in the trucks. We've checked the snowplows to be sure they're ready," said Tim Fife, Franklin County public works director and county engineer.

Because there has been so little rain recently, the calcium chloride liquid de-icer that county road crews sprayed on intersections, curves and hills before Christmas still is effective, Fife said. Later, as the snow melts, it will wash the de-icer off roadways.

For that reason, liquid de-icer is best used prior to a storm. As snow accumulates, it can spread a mixture of sand and salt that is good for traction and de-icing.

Once snow reaches three inches, Franklin County snowplows hit the roads.

The cities and Benton County have similar snow-removal plans. Some use liquid de-icer and sand, others sand and salt -- and some all three.

-- Loretto J. Hulse: 582-1513; lhulse@tricityherald.com

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