Slush, muck on ground, en route

It wasn't exactly Snowmageddon out there, but maybe a touch of Slopageddon.

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A large snowman lords over his wintry domain below the berm in Pioneer Park Wednesday morning after the first significant snowfall of the season blanketed Walla Walla over night. The 8-foot-plus snowman, complete with a face, ears, hair, arms and buttons was made at some point over night before the snow turned in to rain in the morning. Wednesday, January 18, 2012

WALLA WALLA -- Late this morning, snow gave way to cold rain as the first of a series of storms made its way through the Walla Walla Valley.

Local roads were passable, although slush-covered, this morning as commuters made their way to work. And more precipitation was expected as a second storm system moves into the region later today and tonight.

Snowfall at mid-morning around the area measured from two inches to 10-12 inches in Pomeroy. Snow removal was under way on roads in Garfield and Columbia counties.

"It's a pretty good storm," Columbia County Public Works director Drew Wood said this morning. Graders were at work clearing gravel roads, and other plows were working on hard-surface roads.

Wood estimated six to eight inches were on the ground in Dayton. He advised drivers to "take your time. Don't be in a hurry. If you don't have to go out, don't." The highway in Columbia County is in "great shape," he added.

A Garfield County Sheriff's Office dispatcher said there was "the better part of 12 inches" on the ground in Pomeroy and it was continuing to snow. Road crews were working on getting roads open towards the Blue Mountains, she said.

Doug Warnock of Prescott said about four inches of snow was on the ground about 8:30 a.m. today and it was continuing to snow. He said that with a north wind, the snow was coming in "almost horizontal."

Whether the next system will bring rain, snow or both is an open question, said Robert Brooks with the National Weather Service in Pendleton. With temperatures varying from just above to below freezing "it's going to be one of those back-and-forth days," he said.

As of mid-morning, winds along the north-facing slopes of the foothills of the Blue Mountains of Oregon and the immediate vicinity of Walla Walla had warmed to several degrees above freezing, the weather service reported. The warm layer was causing snow to melt before it reaches the ground, resulting in snow changing over to rain in southeast Washington as well as northeast Oregon.

Today's storm was preceded by gusty winds Tuesday. Preliminary data shows a top gust of 49 mph recorded at Walla Walla Regional Airport with sustained winds of 25-30 mph during the day.

Andy Porter can be reached at andyporter@wwub.com or 526-8318. Carrie Chicken can be reached at cec@innw.net or 522-5289.

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