With record-breaking cold and the possibility of more snow on tap this week, officials are urging residents of the Seattle area to stay inside and off the roads if possible.
The next “good chance” of snow will be Wednesday evening through Thursday night, according to the National Weather Service of Seattle. Flurries are possible Tuesday night.
Snow blanketed the region along the Interstate 5 corridor over the weekend, delighting snow lovers without travel plans but causing power outages and major hassles for those on the road.
Bus service was trimmed, hundreds of flights were canceled or delayed, and in some areas roads were too icy even for all-wheel drive vehicles. The Washington State Patrol reported scores of collisions.
King County Metro will operate about 60 core routes Tuesday, on roads that the cities and county have prioritized for snow removal. Community Transit in Snohomish County is attempting a full range of routes with some delays, and some trips and stops were canceled Monday on short notice.
Thanks to a low-pressure system and upper-level trough that has bitter cold pouring into the region from Canada, record low temperatures have been recorded.
In Seattle, the high on Monday was 23 degrees, making it the coldest day in 31 years, according to the weather service, when the city endured a high of 22 degrees.
Record daily lows were also set on Sunday across the region. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport had a low of 20 degrees, breaking the 1948 record of 22 degrees. It was 9 degrees in Bellingham, where the previous daily record was 12 degrees in 1971.
Dr. Stephen Morris, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at UW Medicine, said on Monday afternoon Harborview Medical Center has seen one cold weather-related death, two “critically ill” patients and around six people who were admitted for hypothermia.
“We have a number of people who have been critically ill or ill enough to be admitted to the hospital from things like car accidents and likely heater-related injuries,” he said.
High school junior Kyle Gustafson, 16, said he spent Monday sledding down empty unplowed streets, drinking hot apple cider and watching Star Wars movies in Ravenna. Sunday’s powdery snow has hardened, making for a more thrilling sled ride, he said.
Gustafson said he was surprised to see that the snow has stuck around another day. He stayed up late on Christmas Eve watching the flurries and woke up early to walk around.
“The best feeling I’ve ever had is waking up in the morning, opening the window and looking out at the snow,” he said.
Highs are expected to remain in the 20s in Seattle and much of Western Washington through at least Wednesday, according to meteorologist Samantha Borth.
“It’s definitely the coldest of the season,” she said.
More snow and accumulation is possible either Wednesday into Thursday or Thursday into Friday, when a bigger system arrives, the weather service said.
Temperatures are predicted to rise into the 30s and low 40s over the weekend but drop below freezing again, bringing another round of road treachery.
If you have to go out onto the roads, go slow and give yourself more following distance and more time to react, officials said.
At Stoneway Hardware in Ballard, employee Travis Boggess estimated that up to 95% of purchases are for items like insulation for pipes and sand and de-icing materials. The store sold out of sleds last week and then plastic snow shovels on Saturday morning.
“Because snow is kind of unpredictable to Seattle, a lot of people aren’t prepared,” he said.
Transportation crews have worked overtime to scrape snow from most major roadways, but when slush and puddles refreeze, spinouts are likely to happen across the Puget Sound region Tuesday morning.
Snoqualmie Pass is expected to be mostly bare pavement, except certain shaded areas or where earlier snow fell harder.
“Even though things are drying out, we’re expecting to see some snow and ice in places,” said Summer Derrey, south-central Washington spokesperson for the Washington State Department of Transportation.
Plowing crews are becoming exhausted. Whereas there are normally 15 to 20 plows in the pass, that might decrease to 14 or 16, said Derrey.
WSDOT and careful drivers managed to keep the pass open nearly full time since Wednesday, despite 44 inches of snow, she said.
State workers planned to continue round-the-clock road clearing Monday overnight and through the weekend, but expect some ice to linger. Salt compounds don’t melt the ice when temperatures drop below 25 degrees, spokesperson Meggan Carrigg Davidson said.
The Seattle Department of Transportation said 90% of its arterial snowplow routes were down to bare and wet conditions by mid-Monday. SDOT will continue operating 24/7 with 35 equipped plow and salt trucks. Seattle rarely plows residential side streets until after a few days, a policy that’s provoking complaints on social media.
For the rest of this week, the Sounder commuter trains will serve only the dominant direction, toward King Street Station in the morning and back to Pierce County in evenings, transit spokesperson John Gallagher said.
Sound Transit light-rail trains are expected to run at normal schedules Tuesday, though transit buses were on snow routes, and many trips routes were canceled Monday.
Washington State Ferries, chronically short on crew, are expected to keep with “alternate schedules” of one boat on most routes and cutbacks in the San Juan and Vashon Island routes.