While more snow is headed toward the Puget Sound area on Thursday, the record-breaking cold will start to loosen its grip during a warmup through the weekend, forecasts show.
But weather-related woes continued into Wednesday. Many residential side streets remained packed with ice and Seattle Public Utilities canceled residential garbage pickup for a third day (and Thursday as well). Some coronavirus testing sites remained closed and the city of Seattle said its Rainier Beach vaccination clinic will be closed on Thursday. Seattle Public Library announced opening a few “snow branches” with limited hours, and UW Tacoma and Highline College suspended operations.
As of Wednesday afternoon, airlines had canceled 187 flights at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and an additional 275 for Thursday, according to FlightAware.com. In total, more than 1,300 flights in and out of Sea-Tac have been scrubbed since snow first made landfall.
The cold has also brought people to hospitals seeking medical attention. Up to 20 people have come into Harborview Medical Center’s emergency department in Seattle this week for frostbite, hypothermia, car crashes and other weather-related injuries or illnesses, hospital spokesperson Susan Gregg said.
A warmup is coming, but the snow is not done with Seattle yet. A weather system from the south could dump 1 to 3 inches of snow in the lowlands of much of Western Washington by Thursday morning, according to the National Weather Service in Seattle.
By the weekend, the system could push temperatures in the 40s, said weather service meteorologist Samantha Borth.
Freezing winds pouring into Washington out of Canada’s Fraser River Valley brought record-breaking low temperatures to Seattle and the Puget Sound region two days in a row.
On Sunday, the high at Sea-Tac was 20 degrees, beating the daily record low of 22 set in 1948. On Monday, the high was 17 degrees, beating the 1968 daily record low of 20.
No temperature records were set Tuesday, but it was a frigid 24 degrees, according to the weather service.
“We’ll see the southerly ramp up overnight as we get another system tomorrow,” Borth said on Wednesday.
Along with the warming trend at the week’s end, we will also get a brief dry stretch, she said.
Late Saturday night and Sunday, more temperate air is expected to move ashore from the Pacific Ocean, with temperatures in the 40s — normal for the region this time of year, and rain instead of snow.
By next week, it will start to cool down again — though it won’t be quite the cold snap we’ve had this week. Another series of storms is forecast for Monday through Thursday, possibly bringing more lowland snow, according to an AccuWeather forecast.
Across the West, below-average temperatures and above-average precipitation are expected to continue into mid-January, AccuWeather meteorologists said.
Closer to home, snow and ice continued to complicate travel.
The I-5 express lanes will remain open in the southbound direction through Thursday morning, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation, and Washington State Ferries will remain on one-boat service for most routes through at least New Years Day, due to COVID-19 cases among crew and other staffing challenges.
Workers at Snoqualmie Pass are scraping ice not only from the pavement, but also from electronic messaging signs above the roadway.
Crews in lift buckets knocked down the icicles over Christmas. Icicles are removed a couple of times each winter to reduce vehicle damage or crash risks if ice were to fall and break a windshield, said Summer Derrey, regional spokesperson for WSDOT.
Plowing remains tricky
One of this week’s mysteries, for people driving in Edmonds, Lynnwood and points nearby, is how some roads like I-5 are bare, while stretches of Highway 104 and Highway 99 remained snow-covered after three days.
It’s all about territory.
Some of the roads are maintained by the state, while others are under the care of Snohomish County, and others by cities that keep only a handful of plow-equipped trucks.
Some major Western Washington roads operate under a hybrid system. In many cases, a 1957 law instructs cities to maintain surface lanes and signals, while the state pays for road and bridge structures. To further complicate things, the state handles some interchanges within cities — like the part of Highway 104 approaching the Edmonds ferry terminal, among the iciest roads in the region. Elsewhere, the state delisted former highways, such as Rainier Avenue South in Seattle.
Priorities are based mainly on traffic volumes, WSDOT spokesperson Meggan Carrigg Davison said.
That can leave travelers in a frozen sandwich through Edmonds, where a lower-priority state road sits between city pieces of Highways 104 (Edmonds Way) and 524 (Puget Drive). Or in Lynnwood, which owns just six plow trucks to cover Highway 99 and 524 (also known as 196th Street Southwest). Those small cities have full-time crews out but remained under compact snow Wednesday.
“Both parties are aware of their responsibilities in this situation,” Davison said.
By dusk on Wednesday, the state’s zone near the Edmonds ferry terminal remained frozen but with pavement starting to show.
Lynnwood’s combination of plow teams and heavy traffic turned Highway 99 mostly bare, but with ice piled up on the lane markers. Lynnwood roads that aren’t highways, such as 212th Avenue Southwest and Olympic View Drive Southwest, remained under packed snow, traffic cams show.
“We’ve had a productive day … They are doing what they can to hit all those streets with sanding and salt, and then plowing when they can,” Lynnwood spokesperson Julie Moore said.
Seattle Times staff reporters Mike Lindblom, Paul Roberts, Elise Takahama and Amanda Zhou contributed to this report.