A weekend storm — propelled by a Sunday surge — unleashed nearly 2 feet of snow in some parts of Kootenai County, causing collisions, closures and calamity with promises of more winter weather.
Lt. Chris Schenck of the Idaho State Police said his District 1 branch investigated 43 separate traffic accidents in the last week, the vast majority coming in the last three days.
The most recent accident was a fatality just after noon on Monday on Interstate 90’s westbound lanes on the stretch between the Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls exit, where a pedestrian was struck and killed by a truck on the freeway. Joshua Brown, 38, of Rathdrum, was traveling westbound when he stopped his truck on the side of the roadway, according to a statement from ISP. The statement indicates Brown exited his vehicle and attempted to cross the roadway when he was struck by a Peterbilt Tractor Car-Hauler semi. He came to rest on the right shoulder, where he succumbed to his injuries.
The 43 crashes ISP reported over the stretch did not include light fender-benders or slide-offs, Schenck said, and were the result of a myriad of issues, some of which had nothing to do with speed.
“We were really busy from the Friday afternoon commute to today,” he said. “Typically, people speed too fast for the conditions, but in some instances, poor equipment was to blame. We investigated a report of a crash with a pickup truck; it turns out, [the driver] had a truck with bald tires.”
Lt. Ryan Higgins of the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office said that in winter conditions, speed is always a factor.
“Whether they’re plowed or non-plowed, the streets won’t give you the traction you think you have,” he said. “When you’re losing traction, you need to slow down ... If you’re not used to driving in this weather, the biggest thing to remember is to slow down and give yourself some distance from the driver in front of you.”
Higgins estimated the Sheriff’s Office handled 30 additional crashes between Friday night and Monday afternoon.
“I can tell you we handled several property damage crashes but no major injuries,” he said. “We had several slide-offs, but fortunately no major injuries. A few bumps and bruises, that sort of thing, but no major injuries [on county-patrolled roads].”
The initial weather system moved in Friday, beginning the three-day accumulation just before noon and driving a surge of Coeur d’Alene commuters through the arterials in an early rush to escape work for the weekend.
“We cleared the office on Friday afternoon,” Schenck said. “We knew we’d have some traffic-related issues, and we wanted to get [office staff] home before the storm. I have no doubt the average citizen was experiencing the same thing. I know there were some stores that closed early downtown, which was a smart thing to do.”
By sunset, local high school and North Idaho College events were sporadically canceled, though the storied Fight for the Fish rivalry between Coeur d’Alene High and Lake City High went on as scheduled. School district plows — with the help of a city plow, a loaner to replace a district rig’s temporary breakdown — created the parking lot’s first berms of the year.
The snow continued to fall Saturday, a welcome sight for customers of Clark’s Diamond Jewelers. Clark’s management made a gamble with its customers in November in for a tantalizing promotion: If it snows more than 3 inches on Jan. 11 in Coeur d’Alene, all purchases between Nov. 22 and Dec 31 would be refunded, minus sales tax.
“I was on the phone with (Press climatologist) Cliff Harris several times a day,” Jane Clark, owner of Clark’s Jewelry, told The Press. “I was thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh. Oh, my gosh. Oh, my gosh.’ Waking up in the morning and seeing all that snow was amazing.”
Harris confirmed 3.6 inches of snow was recorded at his weather station between midnight Friday and midnight Saturday.
While official meteorological numbers are yet to be finalized, it appears Clark’s will make good on its promise — to the tune of approximately $500,000 in refunds. The businesswoman known as “Jeweler Jane” said she is still working with her partnering insurance companies in an effort to get official tallies measured by Doppler radar.
“It snowed more than 3 inches [at Clark’s Jewelry’s Sherman Avenue shop],” she said. “It snowed more than that at Cliff’s house. But the insurance companies need to get everything verified properly. So we’re just waiting and seeing.”
She added she definitely hopes to do the promotion again in the future.
As the storm swirled north, however, joy turned to concern. Rathdrum’s higher elevations reported taking in 11-plus inches of snow as Saturday’s storm stretched to Sunday.
As the plows piled the berms higher and higher, one common side-effect left in the storm’s wake became clear: boredom. Cabin fever drove North Idahoans outside onto once-green lawns and parking lots to enjoy the winter. A pair of Coeur d’Alene kids staged an authentic re-enactment of a pre-historic standoff on their front lawn. ATVs pulled saucers full of children through the subdivisions of southern Rathdrum over the weekend. Kelsey’s on Highway 53 was overrun with a pair of cabin fever-infected patrons who built and installed a makeshift “Go 49ers” sign on the front of a decidedly pro-Seahawks bar and grill.
“We’re usually closed Sunday,” Sheree Greenfield said, “but we were open that day for the Seahawks game. I pulled up, and I couldn’t believe it ... I coudln’t quit laughing at the fact they had the effort or ambition to put it up there.”
Greenfield said that despite the Seattle Seahawks losing Sunday evening in their playoff matchup against the Green Bay Packers, the sign will remain throughout the playoffs, or at least until the San Francisco 49ers lose, whichever comes first.
Kelsey’s was one of the Rathdrum landmarks to evade a power outage that darkened a northern swath of the county. Just over 6,900 Kootenai Electric customers in parts of Rathdrum, Garwood, Athol, Twin Lakes, Hayden and Bayview felt the outage, which began at 3:10 p.m. and lasted until 7:55 p.m., when crews restored power.
By Monday, as the storm broke and the cloud cover gave way to below-freezing temperatures, compact snow and ice on most arterials made for slick conditions. The Coeur d’Alene, Lakeland, Post Falls, St. Maries and Kootenai school districts all closed their schools for the day, along with Coeur d’Alene Charter, Coeur d’Alene Christian and North Idaho STEM Charter Academy. They were not alone, joining Boundary, Kellogg, Wallace, Moscow and Lake Pend Oreille, as well as North Idaho College’s three satellite centers in Sandpont, Bonners Ferry and the Silver Valley.
While Monday’s weather provided only cold temperatures and a trace amount of snow, today’s forecast calls for several additional inches of the white stuff.
“My advice is to enjoy the winter,” Higgins said. “We’re going to have more snow. This won’t be the last of it. Enjoy the winter, be safe, and it’ll be summer before you know it.”