Snow mucks up Mid-Columbia roads

Slick roads, frigid temperatures and blowing snow created treacherous driving conditions for motorists around the Tri-Cities and Mid-Columbia on Monday.

But the biggest problem was drivers who thought they could drive like normal with their four-wheel drive vehicles, law enforcement officers said.

“I can’t believe how much traffic is out there and how many people think they can do the speed limits,” said Washington State Patrol Sgt. Zach Elmore. “Our doors are getting sucked off by people driving by us so fast.”

Multiple spinouts around the area and reports of vehicles stuck in the snow had law enforcement officers hopping. For most of the day, as soon as they cleared one crash scene, another one was called out.

Driving too fast for conditions caused most of the problems.

“If you see a trooper going 40 mph in the slow lane, that’s a hint,” Elmore said. “We’re driving slow. We have places we need to get and we want to get there fast as well, but we want to get there safe.

“Everyone’s driving by us, then we’re seeing them in a ditch a couple of miles up the road.”

Fortunately most of the collisions were minor with few injuries, authorities said.

“There’s just a lot of spinouts,” said Kennewick Sgt. Ken Lattin.

Monday morning Lattin was called to 10th Avenue and Olympia Street where a black SUV appeared to have slid backward into a chainlink fence and yard.

It was hard to know exactly how much snow fell overnight Sunday and throughout the day Monday because it was so dry and flaky it wasn’t registering as moisture in many weather gauges.

The wind also blew snow around, causing it to pile up in some areas while leaving clear patches in others. Kennewick, however, reported 2 inches of new snow Monday on top of about 2 inches already on the ground, said the National Weather Service.

Still, enough snow fell overnight Sunday that most Mid-Columbia schools districts delayed the start of school by two hours. Finley School District canceled classes for the day and the Paterson School District sent students home early because of flooding in the gym and cafeteria.

By late afternoon Monday, many districts already had scheduled two-hour delays for today, including Kennewick, Richland, Pasco, Finley and Burbank.

For a full list and up-to-date school delay information, check tricityherald.com.

Construction workers at Hanford’s vitrification plant were sent home Monday morning because of the limited work that could be done safely in the extreme cold.

Construction workers assigned to the Pretreatment and High Level Waste Facilities are not expected to work today because of even colder weather.

Hanford work continued elsewhere at the site with contractors using precautions to protect workers from the cold. At Washington River Protection Solutions, Hanford tank farm workers who were outside were being required to use the buddy system as a precaution.

One of the biggest problem spots for drivers Monday was Interstate 182 between Richland and Pasco.

A Washington State Patrol trooper was involved in a crash while he was stopped to deal with one of the wrecks along the stretch.

Trooper Marty Finan’s patrol car was clipped by a car that was traveling too fast for conditions on I-182 near the exit onto Highway 395.

“On I-182, we had people doing 50 to 60 mph all day. I don’t get it,” Elmore said. “We just don’t understand. Just because you have a four-wheel drive, if you’re driving on ice, it just means you have four wheels slipping on ice.”

Richland police also spent the day responding to calls to help motorists who had slipped off the roads, and helping troopers as often as they could with highway crashes, Capt. Mike Cobb said.

Transportation crews worked diligently to keep roads cleared, but people just weren’t adjusting to driving in the snowy conditions, he said.

“There are a lot of (vehicles) sliding through stop signs,” Cobb said. “People need to start applying the brakes about a half a block before the stop signs. They’re coming up at 25 mph and sliding through. … Intersections just become a layer of ice.”

Interstate 82 from Locust Grove Road to the Oregon border was closed for part of the morning because of road conditions and poor visibility from blowing snow.

Kennewick resident Jose Robledo found himself sitting on the side of the off-ramp at Locust Grove Road because the highway was closed.

Robledo was trying to get to Plymouth and had been stopped for about 30 minutes.

“It’s pretty bad weather,” Robledo said. “What can we do? I’m just waiting for the road to be cleared.”

He was first in a long line of cars, pickups and semi-trucks that were doing the same.

Just after 10 a.m. the highway was reopened after plows were able to clear the snow.

The snow and the cold weather aren’t expected to go away anytime soon, so drivers are being urged to be careful, slow down and keep plenty of distance between them and the vehicle in front of them.

“It is a daunting task,” Cobb said. “Patience and going slow are going to be the buzz words. … We’ve just got to convince everyone to take about 30 percent off the accelerator. If you slow way down, your chances of surviving are great. Fast accelerations or decelerations are both your enemies.”

Drivers also need to make sure they clear all the snow and ice off their windows and stay off their cell phones, Elmore said.

Elmore had one last word of advice for Tri-Citians: “If you don’t need to go out, stay home.”

* Reporter Annette Cary contributed to this report.

* Paula Horton: 582-1556; phorton@tricityherald.com