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Originally published Thursday, January 19, 2012 at 1:27 PM

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Falling tree kills ATV rider in WA ice storm

An ice storm followed heavy snow in western Washington, bringing down trees that killed one person and knocked out power for about 100,000 homes while sending cars and trucks spinning out of control.

Associated Press

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An ice storm followed heavy snow in western Washington, bringing down trees that killed one person and knocked out power for about 100,000 homes while sending cars and trucks spinning out of control.

The tree fell on a man in his 60s who was backing an all-terrain vehicle out of a shed Thursday morning in his backyard in a wooded area near Issaquah, said King County sheriff's Sgt. Cindi West.

"It looks like the weight of ice on the branches caused the tree to fall," West said.

The deputies who responded had to pull back because of all the branches and trees falling around them, she said.

The ATV rider died at the scene in the first fatality of the storm.

Gov. Chris Gregoire declared a state of emergency because of the freezing rain.

"This is purely a precautionary move," said spokeswoman Karina Shagren. "At this point, we have not received any requests from cities or counties for state help, but we know weather conditions are changing rapidly so we want to be prepared."

What sparked the proclamation was concern over truck drivers carrying dairy products not being able to drive more than 12 hours a day due to federal regulations.

Without the order, dairies would have to start dumping milk at a loss of $1 million a day, Gregoire told KING-TV.

The National Weather Service used the Emergency Alert System to break into Thursday morning broadcasts with an ice storm warning for the Seattle area and southwest Washington. The warning initially was to expire at noon, but it was extended to 2 p.m.

"It's a very dangerous situation," with a major impact on roads, said Brad Colman, the meteorologist in charge of the weather service office in Seattle. "We're expecting a significant impact on power."

Then there's the growing weight of ice added to snow remaining from Wednesday's storm.

"We have to worry about any infrastructure that can't bear the load," he said.

Two state Transportation Department workers have been injured in the storm.

The Washington State Patrol says 36-year-old Steve D. Cloud of Tacoma was out of his DOT truck, checking on a driver who crashed into a barrier on Interstate 405 when another car smashed into the wreck. The force of the crash pushed the first car into him.

Cloud is in satisfactory condition at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle with broken bones, said spokeswoman Susan Gregg-Hanson.

The driver of the first car was treated at the scene, and the driver of the second car was not injured, the patrol said.

Another worker was hurt by a falling tree branch in on Highway 18 Wednesday night.

DOT spokeswoman Jamie Holter says freezing rain and ice pellets have caused numerous accidents in the Seattle area.

Holter said crews were working to reopen highways closed by fallen trees. They included 22 miles of Highway 18 near Interstate 90, 13 miles of Highway 410 near Crystal Mountain, and five miles of Highway 202 near Fall City.

In Eastern Washington, westbound Interstate 90 was closed near Cle Elum by a truck accident involving hazardous materials and Interstate 82 was closed between Kennewick and the Columbia River.

The glaze measured a quarter- to one-half inch, said meteorologist Jeff Michalski. The last widespread ice storm in the Seattle area was December 1996, he said.

"We pulled our crews, trying to be safe," said DOT spokeswoman Alice Fiman in Olympia. "We want to make sure all the limbs that are going to come down, come down."

Cars went spinning into ditches on many roadways.

A tractor-trailer that slid off Interstate 5 shortly after midnight blocked the northbound land and two of the southbound lanes into the morning commute. Traffic was detoured, but backed up about a mile, Fiman said.

Ice closed Sea-Tac Airport. It reopened two of its three runways by late morning, said spokesman Perry Cooper. He hoped operations could return to normal by late afternoon, but that depended on how airlines handled rebookings for delays and cancellations.

The airport's biggest carrier - Alaska Airlines - canceled about 100 flights, president Brad Tilden told KING-TV. He added rebooking canceled flights could take days.

Falling trees and tree limbs also took out power lines. Puget Sound Energy reported 90,000 outages at 9 a.m. Thursday, after crews had already brought 46,000 customers back on line since Wednesday in the area south of Seattle and around Tacoma and Olympia.

"It's like a storm in slow motion that keeps happening again and again," said PSE spokesman Roger Thompson.

Tacoma Power spokesman Randy Stearns said it had 24,000 customers out of service because of a downed transmission line. The same line had just been repaired after it was knocked by a tree in Wednesday's snow.

Pierce County Emergency Management said it received more than 90 calls for downed trees that blocked roadways.

The ice storm warning covers Seattle, Tacoma, Bremerton, the east Puget Sound lowlands, Olympia, the lower Chehalis Valley and central coast, including Hoquiam.

In Olympia, more than a foot of snow was still on the ground, but now covered by a sheet of ice, as freezing rain fell Wednesday morning. Many residential roads weren't plowed, and large tree limb were brought down by heavy snow and ice on several roads and yards.

Forecasters expect up to 0.75 inch of ice before temperatures rise above freezing by afternoon.

The warm-up could bring flooding to the Chehalis River in southwest Washington, meteorologist Colman said. But a freezing level of 3,000 to 4,000 feet should help keep snow in the mountains.


Associated Press writer Rachel La Corte contributed to this story.

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