Western Washington woke up to a blanket of snow Sunday and the flakes just kept falling, not letting up until holiday travel had been disrupted, sledders had hit their neighborhood slopes and severe weather shelters had been opened to help people without housing get indoors.
The storm stopped in the Seattle area shortly before dark, but the snow should stick around all week, with temperatures in the teens and more snow expected.
That combination could make roads slick and dangerous, noted Mary Butwin, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Seattle office.
“What we’re going to be seeing for the next few days is very cold temperatures, by Western Washington standards,” Butwin said, predicting highs in the mid-20s and lows in the teens for the Seattle area starting Sunday night.
“We haven’t seen temperatures like this in the last several years,” she added, mentioning that lows could reach the single digits around Bellingham.
Sunday’s snow showers blew into Western Washington from the Gulf of Alaska, dumping an average of 4 to 6 inches across the Seattle area, Butwin said. More snow is predicted for Thursday, but probably not quite as much, she said.
The wind also whipped around Sunday, with gusts reaching 52 mph in Bellingham.
Waking up to sidewalks, trees and steps topped with snow, some Seattle-area residents hunkered down with blankets and books, while others plunged into the powder. Pretty much everyone posted photos on social media sites, showcasing dogs, snowpeople and cityscapes.
Almost immediately, the weather began wreaking havoc on the roads. The Washington State Department of Transportation, which urged motorists to stay home, if possible, and slow down, reported collisions and disabled vehicles throughout the day, including on Interstate 5.
As some bare patches of asphalt began to appear Sunday afternoon, officials issued a warning.
“Don’t be fooled. Those wet roads will turn to ice in a big hurry,” they posted on Twitter.
Holiday travelers making their way to and from Western Washington locales encountered challenges here, there and everywhere, including at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, where departing and arriving flights were delayed by about an hour Sunday morning. As of 6:30 p.m., according to FlightAware, a tracker recommended by an airport spokesperson, 208 flights at Sea-Tac had been delayed (40% of all flights) and 423 had been canceled (27%).
“The rough part today is that the airlines are responsible for de-icing their planes,” which led to backups, airport spokesperson Kate Hudson said. “One plane can’t push back [from its gate] until it gets de-iced, so another plane can’t come in [to let passengers off].”
On social media, some passengers reported waiting on the tarmac for hours. The last time the airport experienced such demanding wintry circumstances was almost three years ago, in February 2019, said Hudson.
During that storm, workers at Sea-Tac removed enough snow from planes to fill 48 swimming pools, Hudson said. But the 2019 storm didn’t occur during the holiday season and a pandemic.
Ahead of the snow and cold temperatures, last Friday, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan issued an emergency proclamation directing resources toward the city’s response, with the weather’s threat for people without housing presenting a particularly urgent concern.
Durkan also signed an order granting incentive payments of up to $150 per shift for work at shelters and warming centers, including some opened on a temporary basis. Those included spaces at City Hall and Seattle Center, with several community centers slated to open Monday.
Outreach workers began visiting encampments Saturday afternoon, with hypothermia a major worry for public health officials.
More than a half-dozen people, including regulars and newcomers, stayed Saturday night at a shelter with limited space managed by Keith Hughes, commander of American Legion Post 160 in West Seattle.
“I hope that in the future, the awareness with the city and the county will include all areas of Seattle, not just the downtown core,” Hughes said.
There were numerous closures due to Sunday’s weather, including Woodland Park Zoo, Pacific Science Center and the Seattle Art Museum. All Seattle and King County library branches were shuttered, as were Seattle’s waste transfer stations. Some COVID-19 testing sites closed, too.
Seattle library branches were scheduled to operate as usual Monday, “dependent on weather impacts,” according to a city update Sunday night.
The snow and icy roads forced Seattle Public Utilities to cancel residential and commercial garbage, recycling and food and yard waste pickup in Seattle on Monday. The utility said that contractors will attempt to serve priority commercial locations. Seattle Municipal Court and King County Superior Court will be closed, the courts said.
King County Metro switched its buses to snow routes Sunday, and Sound Transit did the same with several express bus routes. Metro suspended dial-a-ride and paratransit service, while Sound Transit canceled an express bus route between Northgate and Everett, complicating return trips for Snohomish County football fans after an afternoon Seahawks game in Seattle.
Amtrak trains experienced some weather-related delays, while waterborne travelers were also affected, as Washington State Ferries closed service Sunday afternoon between Coupeville and Port Townsend, due to staffing issues.
In Seattle, work crews spent Sunday plowing and spreading salt on some of the city’s most important streets, while others were left under snow.
The Seattle Department of Transportation began pretreating roads Saturday and dispatched more than 35 vehicles to service about 1,200 miles of pavement, according to the city’s Sunday night update. Busy arterials that connect neighborhoods are prioritized, while nonarterials aren’t plowed.
Metered street parking in Seattle will be free Monday, the department said, encouraging property owners and neighbors to clear sidewalks of snow.
Nearly 3,000 customers in Seattle’s Bitter Lake neighborhood lost power Sunday morning though Seattle City Light had their lights back on by noon. Hundreds of customers remained powerless in Whatcom, Snohomish and Jefferson counties Sunday afternoon, however.
Seattle Times staff reporter Amanda Zhou contributed to his report.