Snow and Ice Removal Policies
This page provides a brief overview of snow and ice removal policies and procedures for cities, towns, and counties in Washington State, including examples of emergency parking restrictions and sidewalk clearance requirements.
Removing Snow and Ice from Streets
Cities and counties often prioritize their road networks for snow and ice removal, focusing first on high-volume arterials. Less-traveled roads receive a lower priority and, especially in low-density residential areas, some roads may not be plowed at all.
RCW 47.24.020(6) requires cities and towns to clear snow from state highways within city limits, except that the state shall plow those roads “when necessary.” The 2013 City Streets as Part of State Highways Conformed Agreement clarifies the meaning of “when necessary,” establishing that the state will plow snow, with city concurrence, on the traveled lane of a state highway on the way through cities without adequate snow plowing equipment. (See Section D - Snow and Ice Removal.)
Several court decisions have established that a public agency cannot be held liable for damage or injuries caused by snow and ice if it has not had a reasonable opportunity to clear the streets. See Leroy v. State (2004), Wright v. Kennewick (1962), and Bird v. Walton (1993).
Practice Tip: Some anti-icing and de-icing products may have negative impacts on the surrounding environment, particularly through stormwater pollution. For more information, see:
- King County Stormwater Pollution Manual: Street Deicing Operations (2016) - Best management practices for de-icing and/or anti-icing operations to minimize water pollution.
- Transportation Review Board: Guidelines for the Selection of Snow and Ice Control Materials to Mitigate Environmental Impacts (2007) - Publication and downloadable software helps public agencies evaluate cost, performance, and impacts of snow and ice treatments.
- Colville Snow Plowing Procedures - Establishes priority streets and identifies hours of coverage
- Leavenworth Snow Removal Priority Guidelines (2015) - Fairly detailed priorities and procedures
- Palouse Snow Removal Guidelines - Informational guidelines geared toward residents and property owners
- Port Townsend Snow Removal Policy - Assigns streets to three priority levels for snow removal and sanding. Establishes city responsibility for clearing state highway within city limits.
- Spokane Snow Removal Operations - Webpage includes snow removal route map, brochures, and parking guide for residents. City also maintains a real-time snow removal map that shows plowing progress.
- Walla Walla Snow Plowing Policy (2011) - Instructions for snow plow and snow loader operators.
- King County Code Ch. 14.48 - County must identify and clear snow emergency routes and alert the public in event of a snow emergency. See county’s Snow and Ice page for an explanation of property tax shortfalls that have forced a significant reduction in the number of snow routes.
- Mason County Resolution 55-13 (2013) - Establishes snow and ice control as the highest public works priority during winter months, listing types and priority of roadway treatment.
- Pierce County Snow and Ice Plan (2010) - Provides inventory of snow plowing equipment, four-phase response plan for snow and ice events, and guidelines for snow plowing and chemical application.
- Stevens County Winter Maintenance Policy - Primary roads, including all paved roads and high traffic gravel roads, receive priority winter maintenance. Secondary roads receive service within 2-3 days and other gravel roads do not receive winter maintenance.
- Lacey Resolution No. 981 (2012) - Declaring a snow and ice emergency; resolution self-terminates after 30 days unless terminated earlier or extended by council
- Wilbur Resolution No. 355 (2009) - Declaring a snow emergency
Parking Restrictions to Facilitate Snow Removal
Municipalities in Washington have adopted a variety of parking restrictions to help facilitate the snow and ice removal process, including temporary parking prohibitions. Some of these laws take effect upon a certain level of snow accumulation, while others only take effect if the jurisdiction has declared a snow emergency.
These provisions typically allow local law enforcement to tow noncompliant vehicles and issue citations.
- Cheney Municipal Code Sec. 11.48.070 and Sec. 11.48.080 - If two or more inches of snow have accumulated, vehicles are prohibited from parking or standing on any street or city right-of-way between midnight and 6 am (3 am to 6 am in central business district). Vehicles may be impounded.
- East Wenatchee Municipal Code Sec. 10.08.030 - During December, January, and February, vehicles must be parked on the even numbered side of the street on even numbered days and the odd numbered side on odd numbered days, to facilitate snow removal.
- Moses Lake Municipal Code Ch. 10.14 - Whenever snow plowing is necessary or anticipated based on weather forecasts, municipal services director may prohibit parking on parts of or all streets as necessary. City may remove and/or ticket vehicles.
- Pullman Resolution No. R-92-08 (2008) - Authorizes public works director to declare snow emergencies, impose parking restrictions, and educate the public.
- Puyallup Municipal Code Sec. 11.08.100 - Provides authority to remove vehicles for emergency snow removal, without prior notice to owner.
- Walla Walla Municipal Code Ch. 10.23 - Public works director may prohibit parking on parts of or all streets as necessary (similar to Moses Lake). Prohibits drivers from abandoning stalled or stranded vehicles and authorizes removal of such vehicles.
- Wenatchee City Code Sec. 6B.06.130 - When snow is present on the roadway, vehicles must be parked on the even numbered side of the street on even numbered days and the odd numbered side of the street on odd numbered days. Fines are established by Sec. 6B.08.010, but vehicle removal is not specifically authorized.
- Yakima Municipal Code Sec. 8.88.060 - Prohibits parking on designated snow routes during snow alerts.
Removing Snow from Sidewalks
Many jurisdictions assign responsibility for sidewalk maintenance - including snow and ice removal - to the owner or occupant of the abutting property. However, the specifics can vary significantly.
Some jurisdictions require snow and ice to be removed by a certain time - either a set time of day (typically no later than noon), a certain number of hours after the snow has stopped falling, or a combination of the two. Others use more vague language, requiring removal as soon as practical.
Some ordinances clearly prohibit property owners/occupants from dumping snow and ice onto public rights-of-way or anywhere that would obstruct fire hydrants or traffic signs. One of the examples below (Wilbur) declares snow, slush, or ice on sidewalks to be a nuisance, while another (Cheney) exempts snow blowers from the city’s normal noise nuisance ordinances.
In most instances, municipalities are not liable for injuries suffered as a result of snowy or icy sidewalks.
Practice Tip: Shoveling snow is a physically strenuous task. The combination of the physical strain and cold temperatures can increase the risk of heart attacks, particularly in older individuals, not to mention the risk of injury from slips and falls. Elderly residents or people with disabilities may be physically unable to shovel snow, in which case some jurisdictions maintain lists of volunteers who can assist them.
For example, see Walla Walla’s snow removal assistance information on its Snow and Ice Control webpage.
- Cheney Municipal Code Ch. 12.32 - Prohibits dumping of snow from private property onto public rights-of-way. Sec. 9A.10.020(C) exempts snow blowers and snow removal equipment from noise nuisance laws if two or more inches of snow have fallen.
- Colville Municipal Code Ch. 12.12 - Prohibits dumping of snow onto public right-of-way, fire hydrants, and around traffic signs, with exceptions.
- East Wenatchee Municipal Code Ch. 12.08 - Occupant/owner must remove snow and ice from sidewalks within 24 hours. Prohibits dumping of snow onto public right-of-way, with exceptions.
- Everett Municipal Code Ch. 13.08 - Occupant/owner must remove snow and ice from sidewalks by noon.
- Moses Lake Municipal Code Ch. 12.20 - Occupant/owner must provide sidewalk service, including removal of snow, ice, and winter sand. Specifies sidewalks and activity trails to be serviced by the city.
- Seattle Municipal Code Sec. 15.48.010 - Owner/occupant must remove snow and ice from sidewalks in a timely manner and, if practical, prevent it from becoming potentially hazardous.
- Wilbur Municipal Code Ch. 12.20 - Declares snow, ice, slush, or mud accumulated on sidewalks to be a nuisance.
- Yakima Municipal Code Sec. 8.88.020 - Owner/occupant must make reasonable effort to clear snow and ice by 9 am of the following day. If removal is not practical, owner/occupant must disperse sand or other suitable materials to reduce the hazard.
- Pacific Northwest Snowfighters - Association of transportation departments in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and British Columbia. Tests de-icing and anti-icing products, establishes product specifications, and provides qualified product listings.
- WSDOT: Snow and Ice Plan - Establishes state policies and priorities for snow and ice removal and roadway treatment. See also the WSDOT Maintenance Manual: Snow and Ice Control (Chapter 7).
- Transportation Review Board: Publications Index - Search “snow and ice” or related keywords for publications related to snow and ice treatments.
- Federal Highway Administration: Snow and Ice - Publications related to snow and ice management.
- APWA: Public Relations for Winter Operations (2006) - Guidance on how to reach out to the public and the media before, during, and after winter weather. See also APWA’s Winter Maintenance catalog for training products and publications related to winter maintenance.