Region hunkers down for week of snow, cold
The cold and snow that have disrupted the Seattle region for more than a week are sticking around for at least a few more days — to the consternation of travelers, the concern of retailers and the delight of children.
Seattle Times staff reporter
No need to dream of a white Christmas — it's coming.
The cold and snow that have disrupted almost every aspect of life throughout the region for more than a week are sticking around for at least a few more days — to the consternation of travelers, the concern of retailers and the delight of children.
Just how ill-prepared the region is for this kind of sustained cold became apparent Sunday when airlines began running out of de-icing fluid, forcing them to cancel dozens of flights and stranding hundreds of passengers at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
Others wanting to leave the city on Greyhound buses or Amtrak trains were likewise out of luck. Those traveling by road found Interstate 90 closed until noon at Snoqualmie Pass. And thousands of people trying to catch Sounder trains home after one event that wasn't canceled — the Seahawks game — were forced to wait through delays of up to two hours after track switches froze. Some got unruly, sparking a police callout. There were no arrests.
For those with cars half-buried on suburban streets, the message from the Seattle Department of Transportation is this: Don't wait for a plow to come by. It's not going to happen anytime soon. The city has just 27 snowplows, and all are deployed round the clock for clearing vital chokepoints like the Alaskan Way Viaduct, the West Seattle Bridge and major bus routes.
And those hoping to take the bus to work Monday morning may have to make other plans. Metro Transit and Community Transit will both be operating at drastically reduced levels.
A large tent weighted by heavy snow collapsed at a temporary ice rink in Bellevue's Downtown Park about 8 p.m. Sunday, briefly trapping a few of the 10 people who were skating at the time.
Bystanders and employees operating the Group Health Ice Arena quickly lifted up the tent, allowing all but a young girl to get out, said Lt. Eric Keenan of the Bellevue Fire Department. Firefighters then worked with others to reach the girl, who was taken as a precaution to Overlake Hospital Medical Center with minor injuries, Keenan said.
University of Washington meteorologist Cliff Mass said the snowstorm is the biggest for Seattle in 12 years, and that the length of time the region has been locked into low temperatures makes it particularly unusual.
After several inches of snow Sunday night, Monday is expected to be clear and cold, he said. More snow could arrive Tuesday, and the cold temperatures are expected to continue through much of the week. The snow likely won't melt significantly before the weekend.
"This is not over," Mass said. "It's showtime for Seattle."
Sea-Tac officials said the majority of flights were canceled Sunday, contributing to the worst disruptions airport veterans could remember in 30 years.
Even though runways were in good shape, carriers were experiencing systemwide problems and the "domino effects" of a number of events, including bad weather throughout the region and in other cities, said Port of Seattle spokesman Perry Cooper.
Alaska Airlines, Horizon Air and other carriers also ran low on de-icing fluid while shipments were stranded in Montana and east of the Cascade Mountains because of closures on Snoqualmie Pass, Cooper said.
In addition, road conditions mean that airport workers have had trouble getting in on time. That has led to delays at the check-in windows and throughout the airport.
Also, flight crews are prohibited from working more than a certain number of hours. If a flight is delayed for too long, a new crew must be brought in, said airport spokeswoman Terri-Ann Betancourt.
Airport officials were assisting stranded passengers, who generally were caught while trying to make connecting flights. Blankets and cots were being provided to some of the most vulnerable, Cooper said. Efforts were also made to make sure concession stands had adequate supplies, he added.
Kara Kirkwood, who was stuck at the airport with her husband and two children while trying to get another ticket to Mexico, said she'd been in a re-ticketing line for seven hours.
Their day began at 5 a.m. Sunday at the airport in their hometown of Kelowna, B.C. Twelve hours later, they had no idea what was going to happen next.
"I just know I'm going to Mexico," said her daughter, 10-year-old Mikayla.
Her mother chimed in: "Well, she thinks she's still going to Mexico. It's 5 p.m. and we still don't have a ticket to go anywhere."
Passengers stranded at Seattle's Greyhound station were getting Red Cross assistance, said company spokesman Eric Wesley. But some people who had spent the past two days waiting at the station were angry that the buses were not running.
Those with tickets will be able to use them as soon as service resumes, he added.
"We won't put anybody on the road until it's safe," Wesley said.
Amtrak also canceled train service Sunday between Eugene, Ore., and Vancouver, B.C., and between Seattle and Spokane. Service from Seattle to Los Angeles was still running, but with "extreme delays," Amtrak said in a news release.
Groceries were inundated with concerned shoppers over the weekend. Almost every meat product had disappeared from shelves of the Jefferson Square Safeway by late Saturday. At the West Seattle Thriftway, a pallet of rock salt sold out within 90 minutes, and shoppers were snapping up bread, milk and meat in bulk.
But while food sales were doing well, retailers hoping for a big Christmas bump suffered through yet another day of bad weather. Many were planning to close early Sunday for a fourth consecutive night.
Jumyr Denina, assistant store manager at Club Monaco in Pacific Place in downtown Seattle, said that clothing store was going to try and "tough it out" by remaining open until 7 p.m., after closing early the previous two days.
"We're doing what we can with the traffic," he said.
Some shoppers, like Sheela Krane of Enumclaw, loved the empty stores: "At Macy's, we practically had the store to ourselves it was so empty. Nordstrom wasn't too crowded. It was great."
But outside the downtown stores, the weather was particularly tough on homeless people. Shy Glines, who said she usually lives in an abandoned building miles away, said she might not be able to get back there. As she stood outside Nordstrom pondering where she would spend the night, someone handed her a new pair of warm boots.
On Saturday night, about 166 people stayed in three emergency city shelters opened at Seattle City Hall, the Frye Hotel and Pavilion B at Seattle Center, according to Seattle's Office of Emergency Management.
Across the region, authorities were reporting severe conditions. In Bellevue, crews had started plowing neighborhood streets Sunday but, when more snow fell, were forced to go back to plowing just the priority arterials. About 3,000 people in south Bellevue lost power temporarily in the evening.
In the area around Sultan, Monroe and Gold Bar in Snohomish County, winds caused enormous snowdrifts of up to 8 feet in places.
Alex Wiggins, a spokesman for the Seattle Department of Transportation, said the city was urging people who don't absolutely need to use their vehicles Monday to stay home or to use mass transit.
"We are expecting very difficult conditions, and we'll be out in full force to make it passable," he said. "It's going to be a difficult commute."
He said that people wanting to drive cars stuck on suburban streets should consider investing in chains or waiting until conditions improve.
Children and their parents greeted Sunday's snowfall by taking sleds or skis to streets almost devoid of cars. In West Seattle, Nathan Gillis glided a half-mile to the store on cross-country skis. He said the skis had been gathering dust before the storm, but now he was using them every day to get around the neighborhood.
Seattle Times staff reporters Maureen O'Hagan, Steve Miletich and Lornet Turnbull and The Associated Press contributed to this report. Nick Perry: 206-515-5639 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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