The year of 2019, and the decade, is coming to a close.
We’ve endured snowstorms that stretched on for days, and an election in Seattle that saw business leaders try, but fail, to shake up the City Council.
Also this year, the city’s skyline underwent a rare subtraction when the final pieces of the Alaskan Way Viaduct were knocked down, removing a barrier between Seattle proper and its prized waterfront.
The region’s biggest story of the year, and perhaps even in 2020, has been the fallout of two Boeing 737 MAX jets crashing within five months.
Read more about The Seattle Times top stories of the year:
Super Bowl snowstorms
It started snowing on Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 3, and at first, it seemed like everyone was excited. It’s rare here to get snow that sticks.
But then, one day stretched into nine. The snow kept coming, it kept not melting, and nobody could get anywhere.
The Seattle area withstood six separate snowstorms (though it felt like five as two came close together). Seattle-Tacoma International Airport recorded 20.2 inches of snow Feb. 3-11.
We got this unusual weather because a swath of freezing air came down from the Fraser River Valley in Canada just as precipitation was coming in off the coast, according to the National Weather Service.
February was the snowiest month on record since 1949 and the coldest since December 1990.
Boeing 737 MAX crisis
In March, after two Boeing 737 MAX jets crashed within five months, killing 346 people, the plane was grounded worldwide by regulators including the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Boeing has since spiraled into crisis amid intense scrutiny and allegations that business pressures compromised safety during the plane’s development. The FAA’s role as an effective, independent regulator also has come under fire.
With various investigations ongoing, Boeing has yet to obtain the FAA’s approval to return the MAX to flight, forcing the company to announce it will temporarily suspend the plane’s production in January.
The company’s board of directors later fired CEO Dennis Muilenburg amid a breakdown of relations with the FAA and growing anger among Boeing’s suppliers and airline customers over the collapse of his optimistic forecast that the MAX could be cleared to fly by year’s end.
Key to the MAX’s troubles is a new automated flight-control system — the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) — implicated as a factor in both crashes.
Boeing, which initially denied design flaws, has since proposed fixes for MCAS, as well as an organizational restructuring aimed to diminish business pressures on aircraft design.
But as 2019 comes to a close, some regulators remain skeptical about the proposed fixes to date, and Boeing’s safety culture and reputation face lingering questions.
Gov. Jay Inslee runs for president
Gov. Jay Inslee set his eyes on the White House but ended up back where he started. After months of hints, Inslee jumped into the crowded race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination on March 1 — becoming the first Washington politician to run for president since Henry “Scoop” Jackson. Inslee kicked off at a Seattle solar-installation company, signaling his signature issue of battling catastrophic climate change. While his ambitious proposals to slash carbon emissions won praise from fellow candidates, voters took little notice and never pushed over 1% in polls. Despite months of frequent out-of-state campaigning, by the late summer Inslee faced no shot of making the third Democratic debate. He bowed out on Aug. 21, opting to run for a third term as governor.
Lake City shooting rampage
On March 27, a man walked onto a main roadway in North Seattle’s Lake City neighborhood with a handgun.
Authorities said he shot a teacher on her way home from work and fired into a Metro bus, striking the driver. He fatally shot another driver in the face, threw him to the ground, shot him again and stole his car. The violent spree ended only when the gunman crashed head-on into another car, killing its driver.
Following the chaos, we learned about those who died: a retired Air Force colonel and a longtime Lake City resident. And the city celebrated the bravery of first responders and survivors, including the Metro driver who steered passengers to safety despite a gunshot wound to the chest.
The man charged said he’d been in a drunken blackout. His trial is scheduled to begin in the summer.
South Lake Union crane collapse
On a brisk, sunny Saturday afternoon in April, one of the impermanent towers that have come to dominate Seattle’s skyline came crashing down, smashing through a building and the busy street below it.
The tower crane — a fixture of Seattle’s construction boom — that collapsed in South Lake Union on April 27 killed two ironworkers on the crane and two passersby on the street, a tragedy that was found by state investigators to be entirely preventable.
The companies disassembling the 278-foot tower prematurely removed the pins that connected its 14,000-pound sections, leaving it vulnerable to a gust of wind that brought it down.
“Corners were recklessly cut and as a result, four lives were lost,” said the daughters of Alan Justad, 71, a former Seattle planning official who was killed. “We will carry this tragedy with us forever.”
Alaskan Way Viaduct finally comes down
Nearly 18 years after an earthquake triggered cracks and settlement in the Alaskan Way Viaduct, the state opened a four-lane tunnel Feb. 4.
No longer can people drive home from the airport and wave like a boss at the Olympic mountain sunset. But people can hear themselves speak while walking the waterfront, now that roaring traffic has moved underground.
More than 100,000 people gave the 66-year-old highway a sentimental sendoff by car cruising the final January night, completing a fun run, or walking the deck at a party alongside musicians, drag queens, giant puppets, and chalk fish art.
The $3.4 billion project was nearly thwarted by the two-year breakdown and repair of boring machine Bertha. But the state is winning its legal fight to reject a $330 million overrun claim by contractors.
The death of Macy’s
Another piece of old Seattle reached the brink of extinction in 2019 with the ongoing troubles at Macy’s, once known hereabout as The Bon Marché. The struggling retailer, which rebranded the Bon in 2003, shuttered its locations at Northgate and Redmond Town Center and announced that its downtown flagship, a local fixture for decades, would close in early 2020. Graying shoppers could find some solace in a last-minute rescue of the historic Macy’s star, which may shine for years to come. But like everything else, that came with a serving of irony: one of the rescuers, Amazon, pretty much launched the economic revolution that Macy’s hasn’t been able to master.
Big business fails to remake Seattle City Council
Business leaders sought to shake up Seattle politics in 2019 by pushing for change in the City Council’s district elections, and there were early indicators the attempt was gaining traction.
Four incumbents bowed out, stung by criticism over homelessness. The television special “Seattle is Dying” generated debate, and seven races attracted a record 55 candidates. But primary voters rejected get-tough proponents, setting up November clashes between left-wingers and centrists.
Democracy vouchers powered candidates through the summer. Then political-action committees took over and began waging a big-money war independent from the candidates.
Amazon dropped $1 million at the last minute, sparking some voter outrage during the homestretch. Business-backed candidates lost most contests and younger voters who voted later handed socialist Councilmember Kshama Sawant a come-from-behind victory.
Voters back I-976
If I-976 is upheld, it will cut funds for roads and transit projects across the state. Lawmakers in Olympia say they’re preparing to make budget cuts in case. Eyman, meanwhile, is running for governor.
Free college ‘game changer’
Washington’s 2019 higher education funding bill made national headlines. Here’s how experts described it: “Almost jaw-dropping.” “A game changer.” “The most progressive” education funding bill at the state level in years.
Starting next year, college tuition will become free, or significantly cheaper, for many low- and middle-income Washingtonians. About 110,000 students will qualify each year for aid to the state’s two- and four-year public colleges.
Washington has long offered a generous financial aid program — but it ran out of money each year. A business tax will cover the cost of the new program, making it (nearly) recession-proof.
Meanwhile, the Seattle Promise — a program that provides some free community college to Seattle’s public high school graduates and passed in a 2018 levy — is now expanding to each public high school in the city.
Here are the Top 10 most-read stories in 2019 on seattletimes.com:
- Flawed analysis, failed oversight: How Boeing, FAA certified the suspect 737 MAX flight control system
- ‘Seattle-ization’? American cities fear what’s happened here | FYI Guy
- Boeing 777X’s fuselage split dramatically during September stress test
- Q13 Fox staffer fired after TV station airs altered Trump video
- What an Olympic medalist, homeless in Seattle, wants you to know
- ‘A tragic day in Seattle’: Fallen crane kills four in South Lake Union
- 4.6 earthquake shakes Seattle region, no damage reported
- Shutdown likely at Boeing Renton as 737 MAX crisis extends
- ‘Seattle Freeze’: Forget making friends — half of Washington residents don’t even want to talk to you
- Tim Eyman under investigation in theft of $70 chair from Office Depot
Seattle Times reporters Christine Clarridge, David Gutman, Jim Brunner, Mike Lindblom, Lewis Kamb, Paul Roberts, Daniel Beekman, Heidi Groover, Hannah Furfaro and Asia Fields contributed to this report.
Correction: The caption on the Boeing 737 MAX photo has been corrected. The photograph was taken in November, not March.