It appears that the snow showers forecast for Western Washington will arrive sooner than expected — late Saturday morning instead of Saturday night or Sunday.

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Associated Press

SEATTLE — It takes an icebreaker to deliver fuel to Nome, Cordova has 14 feet of snow, and Valdez has 26. But that’s Alaska. In Western Washington, it’s the forecast of 1 inch of snow that sends shivers through Seattle.

“Did you hear the screaming message ‘Prepare now’?” National Weather Service meteorologist Dennis D’Amico joked Friday as he answered another call about the forecast for the area’s first snow of the winter.

“We’re not talking about arctic air here,” he said. “It’s just a cold air mass and pretty marginal.”

Forecasters expected the cold front arriving Saturday to turn rain showers white and leave maybe an inch of snow in the lowlands — maybe more north of Seattle and in higher elevations east of Puget Sound.

Cascade ski resorts can expect a good Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday weekend with a foot or more of new snow at Mount Baker in the North Cascades and somewhat less at Snoqualmie Pass in the central Cascades, D’Amico said. Snow also is forecast for Eastern Washington valleys, with an inch possible at Spokane.

Still on the horizon is the chance of a bigger, more widespread snowfall Tuesday or Wednesday, D’Amico said.

It’s enough for schoolchildren to dream of a snow day and start looking for the sled in the garage or basement.

The snow would help the mountain snowpack in the state, which is about 10 percent to 20 percent below normal after a relatively dry December. But the Northwest is better off than some other parts of the West in storing water on mountains, D’Amico said.

It’s often wet in the mild climate east of the Cascades because of prevailing winds off the Pacific, which has a surface temperature around 50 degrees. It’s sometimes freezing in the winter. “But to be cold AND wet is not easy and requires very specific conditions that are relatively rare,” University of Washington Atmospheric Sciences Professor Cliff Mass wrote Thursday in his blog.

Seattle averages 6.8 inches of snowfall a year. When it does snow, it’s an event followed by TV stations with “snowatch” coverage often deserved when traffic gridlocks, power fails and schools close. Stores put out displays of shovels, scrapers and windshield washer fluid. Tire stores get busy selling chains or installing studded tires.

Snow can derail political careers. Former Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels expected to win a third term, but he lost in the 2009 primary with many voters blaming him for bungling the city’s response to a 14-inch snowstorm the previous December.

“There are two weeks in December I would love to have back,” Nickels said.

The Seattle Department of Transportation knows the drill now.

“We are ready. We have a full crew on standby,” said spokeswoman Marybeth Turner. Trucks already started spreading de-icer this week when temperatures dropped below freezing at night.