Northwest upended by snow, freezing rain
Ice hobbles Sea-Tac, cuts off power as accidents congest roads statewide
An arctic front draped across Washington this week should retreat today, ending the pummeling of snow and freezing rain that brought death and disruption to the region.
A pair of back-to-back storms triggered hundreds of accidents, closed highways, stopped flights and darkened homes.
The monster storm came from the northern cold flowing southward beneath moist incoming storms off the Pacific.
In the Spokane area, forecasters are calling for snow today and then snow and rain into Saturday, with light accumulations and highs in the 30s.
In the Seattle region, a quarter- to half-inch of ice on Thursday covered the snow that had already fallen, stopping air traffic and bringing down power lines. At least 200,000 electrical customers were in the dark.
“It’s like a storm in slow motion that keeps happening again and again,” said Puget Sound Energy spokesman Roger Thompson of the onslaught that began in Seattle last weekend.
At least three fatalities were reported. An Albany, Ore., a mother and son were swept away and killed when floodwaters from a creek swept through a store parking lot and caught their car. A father and son survived.
A King County man died when he was struck by a falling tree while trying to back out an all-terrain vehicle from a shed near Issaquah.
Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire declared a state of emergency because of the freezing rain, initially to help deliver shipments of milk from dairies in the region.
In Spokane, a stage 2 snow emergency was declared, under which all residential streets will be plowed with the help of contract workers today.
Washington State Patrol responded to 100 slide-offs in Spokane County on Thursday.
Elsewhere in the Inland Northwest, some impressive snow totals were reported by spotters even before Thursday’s snowfall was added up. As of Thursday morning, 23 inches was measured at Mullan and 17.6 inches at St. Maries in North Idaho, the apparent bull’s-eye of the Inland Northwest portion of the storm.
Spokane International Airport reported 7.5 inches of snow from early Wednesday through 4 p.m. Thursday.
Crews were out in full force trying to keep roads clear, and motorists were getting bogged down on Spokane hills by afternoon, on both the north and south sides.
To the west, a huge semi pile-up on Interstate 90 at Cle Elum on Thursday morning closed the westbound lanes part of the day. To the south, freezing rain and multiple accidents forced closure of Interstate 82 between Kennewick and Plymouth, Wash., at the Columbia River.
Both freeways are vital transportation links.
Washington State University in Pullman was closed as was the University of Idaho in Moscow. The University of Washington also canceled Thursday classes at three campuses, including Seattle. A handful of Inland Northwest school districts announced Friday closures; for a full list, check www.spokesman.com and click on “school closures” next to the “Quick links” tab.
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport flights were stopped early Thursday as runways became coated with ice. Air service slowly resumed as it was cleared. Alaska Airlines flights between Spokane and Seattle were canceled.
Passengers should check ahead before leaving home, airport officials said.
A Washington State Department of Transportation worker was injured in a crash on Interstate 405 north of Seattle, said WSDOT spokeswoman Jamie Holter.
The Washington State Patrol responded to 2,317 incidents statewide from 9 a.m. Wednesday through 9 a.m. Thursday, including two fatalities, and downed trees.
Amtrak suspended train service Thursday between Seattle and Portland.
Today, the arctic front is expected to retreat northward, allowing for a mix of snow and rain at lower elevations of the Inland Northwest starting tonight into Saturday.