Beware of icy roads as temps fall
This evening's commute seemed to go smoothly after the morning commute in the Seattle area was marred by dozens of accidents in treacherous driving conditions.
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This evening's commute seemed to go smoothly.
Traffic on Interstate 5 near Seattle and on Highway 520 cleared up after 5:30 p.m. as commuters headed home early. Sean McDermott, a spokesman for the Washington State Department of Transportation, said road conditions remained slippery and required drivers to slow down.
"We're still dealing with spinouts," he said, but not as many as earlier today. Similarly, the Washington State Patrol said it wasn't seeing a high number of accidents this evening.
Those driving through the Olympia area are urged to be especially careful, McDermott said.
Snowfall that blanketed the Seattle area in the afternoon shifted south to Tacoma and Olympia.
"The snow isn't going to anywhere through Saturday," said Dennis D'Amico, meteorologist for the National Weather Service.
Westfield Southcenter mall closed at 6 p.m. due to icy conditions. All major school districts have canceled classes for tomorrow.
McDermott said the state will send 100 trucks out overnight to de-ice roads. If you get stuck going home, try not to abandon your vehicle on the highway.
"It prevents plows from getting through," said Meghan Soptich, a WSDOT spokeswoman.
Heavy snowfall in much of Western Washington made driving conditions treacherous today, while the Seattle area woke to an unusual winter thunderstorm, producing lightning, thunder and a torrent of snow pellets.
The city of Bellevue suggested motorists should stay off the roads today. Crews were working to clear emergency routes and primary arterials before temperatures drop and the snow turns to ice this afternoon and evening.
No serious injury accidents were reported through the morning rush hour in the Greater Seattle area.
"On just about every ramp and every overpass, we've got some people spun out," said State Patrol Trooper Curt Boyle, whose district covers King County, earlier this morning.
Trooper Keith Leary, patrol spokesman for Snohomish, Skagit and Whatcom counties, said traffic had been flowing fairly smoothly up north in the morning.
"I think everybody's had a lot of practice driving in the snow the last couple days," he said. However, there have been reports of people traveling the wrong way on the freeway [I-5] to try to get off it.
"That's a good recipe for a collision," Leary said.
In Kitsap County, authorities said freezing weather may have claimed the life of a 36-year-old Port Orchard man after he apparently wandered away from his home on Tuesday evening wearing only lightweight clothing.
The body of John Clarence Makepa Basso was found Wednesday afternoon in the underbrush of a wooded area near his home in the 11900 block of Ridge Rim Trail Southeast.
According to the Kitsap County Sheriff's Office, the man had a medical condition that diminished his mental capacity and caused him to behave erratically.
He was last seen by relatives on Tuesday around 7 p.m. and was reported missing at 10 a.m. on Wednesday. His body was discovered around 2:20 p.m. behind a residence off of Southeast Lakeway Boulevard not far from his home.
An autopsy is scheduled, but deputies said there was no evidence of foul play.
Bus service was hampered this morning as traffic gridlocked and the buses took to snow routes, said Linda Thielke, spokeswoman for King County Metro Transit. A decision was made yesterday to chain the buses this morning and reroute them in order to avoid steep hills, she added.
And chains are required on Snoqualmie Pass except for vehicles with all-wheel drive as heavy snowfall created near-blizzard conditions.
Most school districts, including Seattle Public Schools, remain closed today, although some were operating late or on a shortened schedule.
Heaviest snowfall was reported north of Lynnwood and south of Federal Way, with several reports of a foot of snow or more the northwest part of the state.
The unusual thunderstorm about 6 a.m. was caused by a narrow band of unstable moist air moving rapidly from west to east, said Ted Buehner, Weather Service meteorologist.
"You don't see something like that very often down here in the lowlands," Buehner said. The snow pellets, sometimes called "thundersnow" are "compilations of snowflakes that get wrapped up into little balls" as they move up and down inside the storm, Buehner said.
Snowfall was expected to taper off by midday, with clearing forecast for Friday and Saturday, before another weather system hits Sunday.
"Sunday looks pretty exciting," Buehner said. "We're going to have strong east winds coming out of the Cascade passes and... significant moisture. People should keep their eye on the ball. We've got another chance for significant winter weather in the latter part of the weekend."
The winter storm has been good news for skiers. The Stevens Pass ski area opened today and White Pass and Summit West at Snoqualmie Pass planned to open Friday, joining Mount Baker and Crystal Mountain, which opened last weekend.
Kitsap County dispatchers said the roads are extremely slick, resulting in hundreds of accidents today. Most incidents were minor, according to dispatchers, and there were no reported fatal accidents.
Spokane notched a record for the most snow the city has had in a 24-hour period, with 17 inches recorded as of 4 a.m. today, topping the previous record by 4 inches.
On Wednesday, many school districts closed, buses and utility trucks chained up, and some people stayed home rather than risk going to the office.
Mixed rain and snow finally hit Seattle about 6 p.m. Wednesday. As much as 10 inches had already dropped on areas of Snohomish and Skagit counties, with 23 inches northeast of Arlington.
National Weather Service meteorologist Dennis D'Amico said the Seattle area got shadowed by the Olympics on Wednesday in what weather types call a "doughnut effect."
The mountains essentially "are a physical barrier ... it's harder to bring that precipitation into our region," he said.
Today's snowfall means braving another day of canceled classes.
About 4 a.m. today, the Renton School District decided to start school 90 minutes later instead of closing, said Randy Matheson, district spokesman.
"We were confident we could move buses around fairly easily."
But as conditions grew worse, staff and teachers started calling in to say they couldn't make it because were stuck in traffic backups, he said. At 8:35 a.m., the district decided to close, Matheson said.
The reversal affects students at five Renton high schools, who had an earlier start time than elementary and middle-schoolers, he said. Buses were taking the high school students back to their bus stops this morning. Other students either drove themselves or are waiting for parents to pick them up, Matheson said.
On Wednesday, Seattle schools spokesman David Tucker explained that the decision about whether to have classes or not must be made early, with officials considering transportation issues for students and staff, as well as the challenges that parents would face if classes are held but are then cut short.
"We always want to err on the side of safety," he said.
If you have places to be — work, for example — this morning's snow meant trusting in the city and state road crews, and they were struggling to keep up.
Seattle's Department of Transportation crews coated major roadways with liquid de-icer and have sanders, plows and de-icing trucks poised.
As temperatures dropped this week, electricity use spiked as residents crank up their heaters and other appliances work harder. Puget Sound Energy said Tuesday that its peak electricity load Monday night broke a record set in 1998, and natural-gas use broke a record set in 2006.
The Bellevue-based utility serves more than 1 million electrical customers and 750,000 gas customers in 11 counties.
In Seattle, energy demand also peaked Monday, Seattle City Light Superintendent Jorge Carrasco said, but it didn't reach the record demand of Dec. 21, 1990.
"Right now, our power supplies for the five-day forecast look good," Carrasco said, while calling for conservation, especially during peak usage times in the morning and evening. "Demand is about 25 percent above the average for this time of the year, but we have sufficient power-generating resources to meet that demand."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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