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Potholes and the groundhog – what they share in common

By Nic Loyd, WSU meteorologist, and Linda Weiford, WSU News

SPOKANE, Wash. – How fitting that when the groundhog saw its shadow on Feb. 2, signaling six more weeks of winter, it would turn out to be February’s coldest day in the Spokane area. With a high of 27 degrees and a low of 9, he shivered in temperatures 14 degrees colder than normal.

The following day, the meteorological rodent pulled on his winter boots when a snowstorm barged into the region, dumping nearly a foot of snow over three days.

The night of Feb. 8, a rise in temperatures turned falling snow into freezing rain. Hazardous ice coated sidewalks and roadways, forcing many schools to cancel classes on Feb. 9. That afternoon, the temperature rose to 43 degrees and melted most of the ice.

After more freezing rain on Feb. 15, another warmup was accompanied by heavy rainfall. As creeks and rivers swelled with snowmelt and ice jams, Spokane County road crews closed multiple roads because of washouts and large standing pools of water.

Finally, on Feb. 26-27, 3 inches of snow fell onto wet pavement spotted with slush.

No wonder the groundhog jumped into a big pot hole to escape.

Even with sporadic warmups, February was 3.7 degrees colder than normal and also very wet. The saturation of rain and snow brought 4.39 inches of precipitation – the highest seen in the area in February since 1940.

Consequently, the month spawned numerous potholes. Snowmelt and rainwater seeped into asphalt cracks and froze, widening the cracks. As the ice thawed, it further broke down materials in the asphalt. With the steady pounding of vehicle traffic, the cracks broadened into craters.

Potholes, like groundhogs, can tell us plenty about the weather.


Weathercatch is a bimonthly column that appears in The Spokesman Review. Nic Loyd is a meteorologist with Washington State University’s AgWeatherNet. Linda Weiford is a WSU news writer and weather geek. Contact:


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