Local governments may have spent more than normal to clear the second-snowiest February on record

March 13, 2019

Spokane’s second-snowiest February on record may have pushed local governments to spend more than normal on de-icer, overtime and equipment used to keep the area’s roads clear.

Spokane County has already spent most of its winter budget for the this year. Matt Zarecor, an assistant engineer with the county, said January was so mild that the streets department thought it might finish the winter season with a surplus. As snow piled up in February and colder-than-average temperatures continued, the county spent more on de-icer, sand and salt; more on overtime than normal; and it hired contractors to use bulldozers to clear massive snowdrifts.

“We basically spent all the winter operations money in February for the entire winter,” he said. “It was pretty brutal.”

Spokane International Airport recorded 28.6 inches of snow in February, making it the snowiest since 1893.

Zarecor said if next November and December are as snowy and cold as February, the county may have to use street repair funds or money from elsewhere to pay for snow removal. The county’s total budget for snow removal this year is about $3.25 million.

Normally, the county has surplus snow removal funds that it uses to pay for paving and other street projects during the year.

Gary Kaesemeyer, Spokane Streets Department director, said the city has used about 20 percent more de-icer than normal, but he won’t know how much the harsher winter weather cost the city until it begins budgeting later this year. The city’s budget for snow removal is almost $2.6 million.

As temperatures shift between freezing and thawing over the next month, both the city and county could face considerable road damage from cracked pavement and potholes.

City spokeswoman Marlene Feist said most of the winter street damage is caused by water collecting in cracks in the streets and expanding when it freezes. She said the city won’t know how much damage the streets sustained until the weather warms up.

She said overtime pay and de-icer are factored into the city’s snow-removal budget, but most of those funds were used far later into the year than normal.

“It isn’t that we had an exceptionally snowy winter, it was that we had an exceptionally snowy February,” she said.

February temperatures ran 10 to 15 degrees below average during the month, with only eight days above freezing, said Amanda Young, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. Below-average temperatures are predicted to continue until mid-March.