The freezing cold that’s held sway since last week was literally blown away this morning.
Strong south winds which arrived this morning caused temperatures to shoot up from the low 20s to 45 degrees by 7 a.m. today, making a small dent in the snow that has built up over the past few days. But another weather system expected to arrive later today will deliver both rain and snow to the region, turning to all snow by late tonight.
Monday’s snowstorm prompted Walla Walla County offices to close early, and the Walla Walla City Council canceled a work session due to the weather. Other businesses were affected by the storm.
After Monday morning’s early flight took off from the Walla Walla Regional Airport to Seattle, commercial carrier Alaska Airlines pre-cancelled all of its remaining flights in and out of Walla Walla and other areas for the day.
“This eases congestion at (Seattle-Tacoma International Airport) and allows all airlines to match the reduced number of aircraft allowed to land and depart at Sea-Tac,” a post on the airline’s website explained.
By Sunday night a record February snowfall of 14.1 inches had already been recorded at Sea-Tac, and heavier than expected snowfall late Monday afternoon added to it. The storm forced a ground-stop, the airline said.
Without the late flight coming from Seattle to Walla Walla on Monday, there was no plane for this morning’s early flight.
World Wide Travel owner Paul Schneidmiller said this morning’s 11:40 inbound flight was slated to be on schedule. He was “cautiously optimistic” it would serve as a reset to the regular schedule.
“Flight operations look far closer to normal than they have the last several days,” he said this morning.
The storms have blown up safe travel for many people - whether in the air or on the road. A number of businesses have stepped in, finding creative ways to ease the burden.
When the first snowfall hit Walla Walla Valley Honda noticed some of its employees struggled to make their shifts.
“We thought we couldn’t have been the only ones dealing with that,” General Manager Kevin Smith said.
So the College Place business decided to offer shuttle services free of charge to area residents for essential needs: work, school, medical appointments, trips to the bank and grocery store.
Although not inundated, the business has been called upon regularly since the service was announced a week ago.
“As long as there’s snow and ice on the roads we’re going to continue,” Smith said this morning.
The service is offered 7:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and available at 520-3759.
Walla Walla’s Harvest Foods prepared Monday for another round of storm-related essentials.
Co-owner Noland Lockwood said the Southgate grocery store was “exceptionally busy” last Friday as shoppers stocked up on personal hygiene products, batteries, soups and fresh meat. He said bottled water sales spiked, and de-icer was in demand as customers prepared for the weekend.
Monday’s truck arrived five minutes early from Spokane, “and we’re back to business as usual,” Lockwood said.
Meanwhile, Sweet Basil Pizzeria downtown sweetened some of its offerings. To help keep customers out of the elements, the First Avenue shop offered curbside pickup.
Those who called in their orders and paid by phone could have their pizza carried out to their vehicles at the back door. By 7 p.m. it also enticed customers with half-priced 18-inch pizza pies.
The special deals not only were designed as bright spots in the storm, they also help combat some customers’ misunderstanding about the future of the business.
Since announcing the business was put on the market for a potential new opportunity in Boise, Sweet Basil co-owner Stephenie Bowen said many people have approached her and employees asking when the closure is coming. They misunderstood that the business will continue to operate and that she and her husband John, who owns it with her, will continue at the helm and in town if a new owner doesn’t come forward.
Across the street Monday at Coffee Perk, barista Danielle Kubrock found hope and a clear path into her driveway from longtime customer Keith Crain.
With the snowfall, Crain has been putting in five to six hours using his own equipment to help those who can’t plow their own driveways and sidewalks, he said.
On Monday, Crain’s plow outside of the business was a welcome sight for Kubrock, who wondered how she’d manage to get back into her half-mile-long driveway after her shift.
The snow had blown overnight, creating drifts as high as the top of her wheel well, she said. It was more than she could shovel on her own, and she knew she’d be stuck on her way in.
“I told him my situation and without hesitation he offered his help and didn’t expect a dime in return, and event went above and beyond,” Kubrock said.
“He made sure the driveway was totally clear and that there was a clear distinction where the edge of the road was so I could make it home easily. He was a lifesaver”
Snow covered and icy roads prompted school districts around the Valley put safety first, but also try to avoid full-day closures that might have to be made up later in the year. Two-hour delays have been common so far this week, allowing for city crews to get roads plowed, more daylight for visibility and time for road conditions reports to come in.
In Athena-Weston School District, for example, bus drivers are well-versed in the use of tire chains, but drifting snow on country roads closed schools there Monday.
Superintendent Laura Quaresma said she also keeps student drivers in mind when roads are icy.
Touchet School District Superintendent Susan Bell, like other school officials in every district, typically begins driving roads about 4 a.m. on adverse weather days to make the most informed decision possible. Bell is part of an area school superintendent network that communicates in deciding on closures or delays, particularly where bus routes overlap, she said last week.
The icy roads also caused numerous collisions and car crashes, with the Walla Walla Police Department urging residents to stay off the roads Monday night.
“Please stay home if you can!,” was posted on their social media page. “We have responded to several accidents today. The roads are bad!”
The slick conditions even led to a crash between a Walla Walla Sheriff’s vehicle and another that was stopped at a light on Ninth Avenue.
Sheriff Mark Crider said the deputy was responding to a domestic violence call. He also said collisions were “happening at an alarming rate,” estimating dozens since the snow started falling last week.
“Stay off the roads.”
He also said increasing the two-second following rule to four or five seconds, turning on headlights and slowing down were precautions drivers could take to avoid collisions.
Washington State Patrol Trooper and Public Information Officer Chris Thorson estimated the patrol responded to three collisions in Walla Walla during the weekend and three on Monday.
“Just advise people to slow down please,” was his tip to avoiding crashes.
College Place Police responded to several collisions during the weekend, Chief Troy Tomaras said, as well as two on Monday. He echoed Thorson’s statement that collisions usually were due to people driving too fast.
“If you are involved in a collision, don’t panic,” Tomaras wrote in an email. “Try to clear the roadway and stay within your vehicle so you are not struck by another vehicle. Call 911.”
Andy Porter, Sheila Hagar, Emily Thornton and Vicki Hillhouse contributed to this story.