Eighty thousand tons of salt, “tens of thousands” of tire chains and plenty of extra training and practice. Those are among the preparations underway at local transportation agencies in case of another major snowstorm this winter.
Officials from regional transportation, weather and emergency management agencies on Wednesday laid out their plans for potential snowstorms this winter, just months after record-breaking snow socked Seattle in February.
Meteorologists “don’t have a strong signal” of how winter weather will shape up this year, said Reid Wolcott, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Seattle.
“So that means we need to be prepared for anything,” Wolcott said.
Back-to-back snowstorms proved deadly in February as at least four people died from hypothermia-related causes. Among them: 59-year-old Derek C. Johnson, who may have been homeless and was found at the Sodo light-rail station. The city opened additional shelters and tried to reach people living outside.
The storms also closed schools and wreaked havoc on traffic. King County Metro for the first time deployed its Emergency Snow Network of significantly scaled-back service, mostly on high-ridership, low-slope routes. Some sidewalks gathered layers of snow and ice, creating a treacherous path for pedestrians and drawing attention to city law requiring property owners to keep those sidewalks clear.
Officials are urging residents to get ready now by signing up for emergency alerts, putting together flood-preparation kits for homes or cars and planning for how they’ll cope with losing power. When the weather hits, remember to clear storm drains and sidewalks.
Metro will review its Emergency Snow Network and add routes in South Park and other areas, said Deputy General Manager Terry White. The agency is “restocking tens of thousands of chains” and plans to share more data with bus arrival apps in hopes of getting riders more up-to-date information about canceled routes.
The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) plans to order nearly 80,000 tons of salt for the upcoming season statewide, said Maintenance and Operations Manager Chris Johnson. The agency went through about 98,000 tons last winter, he said.
Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) Maintenance Division Director Darren Morgan said February’s storms “certainly did push SDOT to its limits.” The department is stocking up on salt and other supplies and training drivers.
Morgan said SDOT plans to “reemphasize” property owners’ responsibility for clearing sidewalks. The Seattle City Council Monday approved a resolution asking SDOT to start a public education program by Nov. 1 to remind property owners that they are responsible for snow and ice removal.
The advocacy group Rooted in Rights pushed for changes after gathering stories from people with disabilities who had difficulty navigating uncleared sidewalks.
“For people in wheelchairs and people with low vision, sidewalks are the way we get around,” said Rooted in Rights Program Director Anna Zivarts. “If they’re not accessible, we can’t leave our homes.”
While the city prioritizes some streets for clearing and offers a live map of which streets have been plowed, there is a “complete lack of information about pedestrian sidewalks and what’s going to be cleared,” Zivarts said.
The City Council also requested a report about how SDOT enforces the sidewalk-clearing requirement and asked the department to “consider ways to emphasize” commercial property owners clearing sidewalks within 12 hours of snowfall. Morgan said Wednesday the department has the authority to enforce the sidewalk-clearing law but will focus on educating property owners first.