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Originally published January 10, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified January 11, 2007 at 12:16 AM

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Snow falling, accidents jam traffic

Nearly all the major highways in the Seattle area jammed up tonight as snow rolled through the region during the evening commute, but there haven't yet been...

Seattle Times staff

Nearly all the major highways in the Seattle area jammed up tonight as snow rolled through the region during the evening commute, but there haven't yet been any major road closures.

Particularly bad is eastbound I-90, which came to a near standstill after numerous accidents and spinouts on Mercer Island. Sections of I-5 also are bumper-to-bumper, said Dave McCormick, state Department of Transportation assistant regional administrator.

Pea-sized hail began to fall on Mercer Island about 4:30 p.m., laying a coat of ice. At the Island Crest exit, traffic was immediately stopped before the hill.

The central business district was gridlock by 5:15 p.m. The streets didn't appear to be snowy or icy, but on the back streets heading south on the island, there was a school bus stuck sideways with a firetruck to the rescue on SE 40th Street. Cars were going 3 mph and people were leaving their cars and walking. There were two Sound Metro buses stuck on Island Crest Way.

In West Seattle, about an inch or more of show had fallen at Ida and 41st streets, where an accordion-style Metro bus was stuck about 6:30 p.m. trying to turn onto 41st from Ida. Several men were trying to dig it out with shovels. there were no chains on the bus' tires.

Earlier this afternoon, the Department of Transportation urged workers to head home early because of the snowstorm, which hit about 4:30 p.m. and is expected to last until about 8 p.m. Spokesman Greg Phipps said the decision to send people home came after the forecast changed about 2:30 p.m., he said.

One to two inches of snow was expected in the Seattle area.

"If we can get folks to get home before that becomes a big issue, we should advise drivers to do that," he said.

Phipps said initially the DOT was expecting isolated showers today, "but the system gathered strength and started moving south."

Phipps said that would help crews get equipment out to plow and de-ice the roadways.

The expected snow fall overnight left only a dusting or an inch or two this morning.

The relatively mild weather in King County created a relatively safe and hassle-free commute this morning.

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State Patrol Trooper Jeff Merrill said no major roads were closed because of the weather.

"The south end is getting it a little harder than we are. Maple Valley is pretty icy," Merrill said. "We had a number of wrecks and they're all getting cleaned up."

Merrill said he and other troopers are watching the forecast closely to see if the wintry weather being predicted in more rural areas really comes true.

Although a new cold front will be bringing in below freezing temperatures on Thursday, temperatures in Seattle today will remain in the mid-30s.

Echoes of the last storm were evident Tuesday in the urgent warnings issued by King County, Seattle and government agencies , warning people not to run generators or burning grills inside. In December, seven people died from carbon-monoxide poisoning.

"This year has been a bad year," said Gregg Hirakawa, spokesman for Seattle's Department of Transportation.

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