Brace for icy roads across region; more snow is on the way
What began as on-again, off-again flurries turned to more serious snowfall that blanketed much of the Puget Sound area Sunday.
Seattle Times staff reporters
If you have to drive in wintry weather• Before leaving home, check traffic and weather reports. Statewide travel alerts and road conditions: www.wsdot.wa.gov/traffic/
• Clear snow and ice from car surfaces before driving. Snow on the hood can blow toward the windshield and block your view.
• Keep safety equipment, spare parts, and food and water in the car. Keep your cellphone fully charged.
• Keep your fuel tank at least half full. Make sure your wiper-fluid reservoir isn't running low.
• Drive with headlights on.
• Slow down. If possible, avoid driving altogether.
• Even when roads are dry, watch out for icy bridges.
• Stay at least 15 car-lengths (200 feet) back from maintenance vehicles and plows, and don't pass them on the right.
• Don't use cruise control.
• Use brakes sparingly to avoid skidding.
• Don't pump anti-lock brakes to stop.
• If you need to pull over, the State Patrol asks you to stay with your vehicle, where you'll be safer. Call for help or hang a colorful piece of cloth from your window or antenna.
More winter driving tips: www.wsdot.wa.gov/winter/
With government offices, schools and many businesses closed for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, fewer drivers are expected on area roads for Monday morning's commute.
And that's fortunate, as slushy snow was expected to freeze overnight on roads and highways, creating sheets of black ice sure to make driving more hazardous in the region's first major storm this winter.
Crews from city and state transportation departments were to work around the clock overnight to try to keep roads clear.
"We are deploying the entire fleet to apply rock salt to the roads so they will be available to use tomorrow," Rick Sheridan, spokesman for the Seattle Department of Transportation, said Sunday.
"We don't want drivers waking up to discover streets iced over."
The city's snow response is built around the major roadways most heavily used by transit, Sheridan said. That's why you're unlikely to see snowplows going up and down residential streets.
Snow — from trace amounts to 9 inches — fell across Western Washington on Sunday, creating slippery conditions that sent cars and buses spinning out of control. Several roads were closed and King County Metro buses were on snow routes.
National Weather Service meteorologist Ni Cushmeer said snowfall across the region was "hit or miss."
Snow was expected to hold off overnight, but temperatures could drop well into the 20s. Monday's forecast calls for temperatures in the mid-30s and an additional inch of snow, with intermittent snow showers continuing until Wednesday afternoon.
The state Department of Transportation moved up the reopening of the Highway 520 bridge to midnight from the previously scheduled 5 a.m. Monday reopening. The department closed the bridge between Montlake Boulevard in Seattle and Interstate 405 in Bellevue at 11 p.m. Friday to allow crews to move in 2 million pounds of concrete girders for a highway overpass.
Assault with salt
Spokesman Bart Treece late Sunday said crews were treating highways and state roads with salt and de-icer. "We're hitting them several times — hitting them hard," he said.
The department is asking drivers to cooperate, he said.
"We need people to drive appropriately for the conditions," he said. "Don't drive too fast. Give yourself enough room. We need them to bring their winter driving game with them."
The department has been preparing for this for a long time, Treece said, recalling an earlier conversation with a road-crew member. "He was saying 'I hope it snows. I can't wait to use this stuff.' "
By noon Sunday, King County Metro buses had switched to snow routes, and they were to remain on snow routes through Monday, in addition to their holiday schedule. Sound Transit's Link Light Rail planned to operate on a regular weekday schedule.
Metro riders are advised to wait for buses at stops on flat portions of cleared roads or at major transfer points, such as park-and-ride lots and transit centers.
For more information, visit Metro's Snow & Ice page: http://metro.kingcounty.gov/up/rr/adverseweather.html#.
Seattle's Human Services Department opened additional shelter space this weekend in the Rainier Room at Seattle Center to serve adults through early next week.
Teasing turns serious
Sunday's snow began as on-again, off-again flurries that missed some neighborhoods, including parts of Ballard, but turned more serious as the day wore on, blanketing Lake Forest Park to Queen Anne Hill to Redmond to Tacoma, and most places in between.
Residents of the Eastgate area of Bellevue reported no accumulation until later Sunday, when an inch or so began to stick.
Among the hardest-hit areas were Bothell and Forks, Clallam County. Nine inches were reported in Port Angeles.
Joan Mack, of Oak Harbor, said Whidbey Island had more than 2 inches and neighborhood kids teamed up to make a 6-foot snowball.
"People can't go up the hills because of the way the snow is," she said. "The teenagers are out running up and down the street."
Angel Gez Smith, who lives on the 16th floor of an apartment building in downtown Seattle, said she took her two young daughters out to build a snowman in the courtyard.
For the most part, though, they curled up inside and watched cartoons on TV, trying to keep cabin fever at bay, Smith said.
"All the buildings downtown have a light cover of snow, and seeing the birds try to land on them is kind of neat," she said. "There's no ice yet that we can see, but it'll be interesting what happens after the sun goes down."
Seattle Times staff reporter Brian Rosenthal contributed to this report.