A cold snap that has driven the homeless to emergency shelters, frosted windshields and put Seattle de-icing crews on alert, probably won't relent for at least a week and could...

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A cold snap that has driven the homeless to emergency shelters, frosted windshields and put Seattle de-icing crews on alert, probably won’t relent for at least a week and could coat the area with snow later this week. Temperatures are expected to drop into the 20s each night in the lowlands of King, Snohomish and Pierce counties throughout the week, well-below the 35-degree average low for January, according to the National Weather Service.

Clear skies of recent days also could cede to rain and possibly snow as soon as Thursday, with snow most likely at low elevations Saturday. Highs are expected in the low-40s today and tomorrow, dropping to the 30s until at least Monday.

“We’re really setting up a classic snow pattern,” said University of Washington atmospheric scientist Cliff Mass. “It is looking better and better that the lowlands of Western Washington may get some snow.”

The city of Seattle is using two emergency shelters to house as many as 100 homeless people. The low temperatures can make shelter a matter of survival for people living on the street, said Al Poole, manager of survival services for the Seattle Human Services Department.

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“Those folks that are most independent come in at this cold snap. They just have no choice. When it starts getting down to the 20s, no matter how tough you are, you just need to come in someplace just to stay alive,” he said.

Those shelters are at or near capacity, as are the more than regular 2,100 shelter beds paid for by the city, Poole said.

A men’s shelter housed at Eastside churches hasn’t seen a jump with the falling mercury, said Steve Roberts, director of Congregations for the Homeless. As of yesterday, 25 of the group’s 30 beds were occupied, he said.

HARLEY SOLTES / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Ice crystals hang on leaves as the sun begins to warm up the ground at Green Lake yesterday.


Seattle officials also are preparing for the possibility of snow on a weekday, when it could disrupt the commute. If it does snow, people should consider using public transit, leaving for work earlier, and driving more slowly, said Seattle Department of Transportation spokeswoman Liz Rankin.

“I’m not going to say don’t go to work,” she said with a laugh.

During the cold spell the city is dispatching trucks at night to patrol for ice on area bridges, where icing is a particular problem, she said. If the risk of ice is deemed high, the trucks can spray the bridge with a de-icing agent, she said.

The state Transportation Department isn’t taking extra measures at this point, spokeswoman Ann Briggs said. But she had this rule of thumb for drivers: “If you have to scrape ice off your windshields, chances are there’s ice on the roadway, too.”

People bound for mountain passes should check conditions ahead of time at www.wsdot.wa.gov/traffic, make sure they have the proper traction equipment for car tires, and make sure they have emergency equipment such as road flares, a small shovel, a bag of sand or cat litter, according to the state Transportation Department.

During cold weather, people need to make sure they don’t endanger themselves while trying to keep warm. To avoid carbon-monoxide poisoning, people shouldn’t burn charcoal indoors, use a gas oven as a heater, sleep in a room with an unvented gas or kerosene heater, or idle a car in a garage, according to Public Health — Seattle & King County.

The cold weather could persist beyond this weekend, said Jay Albrecht, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service. A strong front of high pressure in the Pacific Ocean is forcing cold air from Eastern Washington and southern Canada down into Western Washington. At this point, there’s no sign of that high pressure weakening, he said.

Warren Cornwall: 206-464-2311 or wcornwall@seattletimes.com