Blowing snow strands travelers, closes highways across the Tri-Cities

Are you ready for winter driving? Washington State Patrol has some tips for you

Washington State Patrol Trooper Brooke Bova offers some helpful tips on what to do before you drive in snowy or icy conditions.
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Washington State Patrol Trooper Brooke Bova offers some helpful tips on what to do before you drive in snowy or icy conditions.

More than a half of a foot of snow fell in the Tri-Cities on Saturday and then was whipped into a blinding frozen mess by 25-mph gusts.

More snow was expected overnight before a possible easing Sunday afternoon, said the National Weather Service.

The winter storm that tortured much of the state forced the Tri-Cities Airport to close and shut down major highways.

The closures include Interstate 82/Highway 395 from Kennewick to the Oregon border, Interstate 90 between Yakima and Ellensburg, Highway 225 near Benton City and Highway 240 near Horns Rapid.

The National Weather Service issued blizzard warnings for Yakima and Kittitas counties.

The weather service predicts some snow could continue through Tuesday. A winter storm warning was issued for the Tri-Cities through 10 a.m. Sunday, but there is a 25 percent to 65 percent chance for more snow later in the week. Winds were predicted to die down some on Sunday.

Jerry Dauder of Richland fixes a flat tire on his Chevrolet truck outside of a Circle K near George Washington Way on Saturday during the snow storm. The National Weather Service says there is a winter storm warning in affect until Sunday 1 p.m. Noelle Haro-Gomez Tri-City Herald

The most serious collision Saturday, reportedly involving a semi truck, tow truck and other vehicles, was south of Kennewick on Interstate 82 near Coffin Road at 3:30 p.m.

Initial reports were that four people were seriously hurt and seven others had less serious injuries. More information was not immediately available Saturday.

Tri-Cities Airport closes

Tri-City Airport officials shut down around 3 p.m. because the blowing snow was making it dangerous to drive.

Airport Director Buck Taft hoped to get enough planes landed in Pasco by 3 p.m., so they could resume normal operations Sunday morning without waiting for planes to come in.

The closure follows a decision by Alaska Airlines on Friday to cancel many of the flights going in and out of Seattle. The airline is allowing people to exchange or cancel their tickets prior to their flight.

The snow also stopped Ben Franklin Transit buses. The agency plan to announce when routes will resume before 6 a.m. on Monday.

The treacherous conditions forced various school and community events to cancel. Some churches also announced plans to cancel services Sunday morning.

Thorson Snow.jpg
Washington State Patrol

Dangerous roads

The shifting and drifting snow quickly overwhelmed state, county and local road crews.

By midday, officials closed several rural county roads because of poor visibility and large snow drifts.

“We’re all hands on deck today,” said Summer Derrey with the state Department of Transportation. “We pulled in a lot of extra resources to help.”

Ruppert Road in West Richland closed after vehicles got stuck in the road, the police said.

The plows in Benton and Franklin counties stopped because it was unsafe to continue and officials asked people to stay home.

“They advised that they will have to pull back, resulting in several roads that are not going to get the snow plowed,” the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office said. “Please use extreme caution when traveling.”

There have been multiple crashes across the area. Many of them involved people spinning off the road, crashing into guardrails or getting stranded in the snow.

While many of the crashes were minor, a Franklin County neighborhood near Selph Landing and Columbia River Road lost power shortly before 9 a.m. when a plow went careening off the road and into a utility pole.

The driver stayed inside and away from live wire that dropped on the roof, said officials.

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Cameron Probert covers breaking news and education for the Tri-City Herald, where he tries to answer readers’ questions about why police officers and firefighters are in your neighborhood. He studied communications at Washington State University.