Snoqualmie Pass? Closed.
Stevens Pass? Closed.
White Pass, Blewett Pass and Interstate 5? Closed, closed and closed.
For much of Friday, record snow in the Cascade Mountains and serious flooding in the Chehalis River Basin shut down nearly all of the major road and train routes connecting the Seattle area to much of the state and the rest of the country.
Gov. Jay Inslee issued an emergency proclamation Friday afternoon, citing extreme weather, hazardous driving conditions, road closures and flooding. The proclamation directed state agencies to mobilize resources in connection with local jurisdiction and activated the National Guard and State Guard to provide help.
“We’ve had so much snow on the mountains and also rivers flooding” in the lowlands, plus landslides and strong wind in spots, Samantha Borth, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Seattle, said Friday afternoon. “It’s a pretty unique situation.”
Though a 20-mile stretch of I-5 between Grand Mound and Chehalis reopened Friday afternoon, thanks to receding flood waters, officials said the passes would likely remain closed until Sunday.
In the meantime, the closures and the extreme weather conditions that caused them, including avalanche risks and torrential rain, isolated millions of residents Friday, separating Seattle from Portland and Western Washington from Eastern Washington.
The last time the region was cut off so much was in 1996, when an “atmospheric river” gushed overhead, closing the passes and I-5, said former NWS meteorologist Ted Buehner.
This week, there were disruptions at every level of commerce, as international shipments loitered in warehouses, produce waited on trucks and residents delayed supermarket trips.
Travel plans were scuttled, hospital operations were complicated and learning was postponed, as Washington State University canceled classes for next Monday and Tuesday to allow students more time to return to Pullman from Western Washington.
The surging rain and snow created problems not only on the passes and around Chehalis, in Lewis County, but in communities across the region.
Flooding closed streets in downtown Issaquah, as residents grabbed sandbags at a community center to protect their properties. First responders in Seattle rescued a man as his house slid downhill in Magnolia. In East King County, some Skykomish residents were trapped by unplowed snow.
In Wenatchee, stranded Amtrak passengers waited in vain on a snowy train platform for the conductor to call them aboard. Amtrak service between Seattle and Portland was halted.
Rain and snow slammed the state in historic proportions this week, setting the stage for swollen rivers and avalanche concerns Friday.
The culprit was a warm front that stalled over Western Washington between Wednesday night and Friday morning, rather than moving past quickly, like usual, Borth said.
The Washington State Department of Transportation reported 26 inches of snow at Snoqualmie Pass from Thursday to mid-Friday, on top of 280 inches earlier this winter. Winds remained high Friday night but conditions were starting to dry out.
Thursday was Seattle’s seventh-wettest January day ever, with 2 inches of rain recorded at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport; another half inch was recorded Friday.
Hoquiam accumulated nearly 6 inches Thursday, setting a record for the Grays Harbor County city, while Shelton in Mason County accumulated 4 ½ inches. The clouds dumped a record 10 inches of rain over 24 hours on the tiny city of Rainier, near Olympia.
“All that precipitation” surged into rivers, Borth said. And snow melt from holiday storms played a role.
Soils were saturated before the major storm even began, she added, blaming that mix for the increase in landslides. Winds whipped Whidbey Island.
Though rain continued at times Friday across Western Washington, Borth said the major storm had moved on. She predicted showers over the weekend, with some possible sun breaks.
“We’ll have another (storm) system brushing the area but nothing compared to what we’ve just seen,” she said. “Sunday looks pretty nice, in comparison.”
The weather conditions blocked truck routes Friday, gumming up a sector that averages $42 million of cargo moved in Washington state each day, including perishable products like milk.
National Guard members were deployed to the flooding in Lewis County to fill sandbags. By the time the stretch of I-5 near Chehalis reopened, all 99 truck parking spaces were occupied at the Pilot Travel Center, north of the closure, said manager Cynthia Willis. Some were heading south, and others were waiting to head east, over the mountains.
The drivers, many heading to Wyoming or Montana, spent the day calmly waiting in their rigs or eating fast food, said Willis, who was taking reservations through Monday.
“Everybody’s cool, nobody’s mad. Everybody knows they’re not going anywhere,” she said.
Roughly 100 miles east and 2,500 feet higher, up on Snoqualmie Pass, work crews spent Friday on avalanche control tasks. They focused on three large avalanche chutes along Interstate 90 west of the pass, using explosives to loosen the snow, said WSDOT regional spokesperson Summer Derrey.
The work is done using semi-permanent cables and pulleys carrying explosives up the slopes. Workers propel the system using a bicycle-type machine — sort of like a ski lift for dynamite.
Besides those two chutes, crews west of the pass counted 38 natural slides of snow, ice, rocks and trees, Derrey said, adding, “Our avalanche crew is exhausted; they’ve been working around the clock.”
East of the pass on I-90, workers began plowing lanes between Hyak and Easton. In at least one location, they scraped two lanes to ice or slush, a WSDOT video showed. The agency currently has sufficient plowing crew, with workers who live mostly around Cle Elum and have managed to sleep at home at night, Derrey said.
Limited travel on I-90 is being allowed, for residents and workers only, between Ellensburg and Cle Elum, where local drivers must pass checkpoints to proceed, Derrey said.
Out and about
Caregivers scheduled to work Friday at Providence hospital in Centralia were called in Thursday night, with officials anticipating Chehalis Basin flooding would make morning commutes difficult; I-5 is the main route to Providence. The hospital set up cots for those caregivers, said spokesperson Chris Thomas.
Although some emergency vehicles were allowed through during the I-5 closure, Providence’s emergency department accepted only patients from Lewis County. Patients from outside of the county were redirected either north or south.
In Issaquah, residents worked through Thursday night into Friday morning to shield their homes with sandbags. At least one apartment building was evacuated after Issaquah Creek spilled over its banks and into the parking lot under the building.
Elsewhere in the same neighborhood, Dana Zuber’s entire yard was underwater. Perched on the porch of the house where she’s lived for 35 years, she described the flooding as the worst she’d ever seen.
Business owners along Front Street North watched water lap at the sandbags protecting their stores, as vehicles zoomed down the mostly flooded road. Adam Shaeffer’s Downhill Zone, a bicycle repair shop, was still dry, he said.
The Seattle rescue happened at a home in Magnolia, on Perkins Lane West. A man was trapped in the basement when the home slid, according to the fire department. A woman was able to escape on her own but a dog died and another was missing.
The incident appeared to have been caused by heavy rains; the steep slope where the home is located has a history of landslides, said Bryan Stevens, a spokesperson for the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections.
The deluge caused a sewer overflow into Lake Washington near Medina Park Beach for an hour and a half Friday afternoon.
In Skykomish, Daniel Casey was trying to get attention from officials, begging King County to plow the snow off his street. As of Friday, Casey said he had been without power and unable to leave his home for multiple days, relying on a generator to keep his lights on as snow continued to come down.
“Lots of people up here don’t have money. They don’t have generators,” he said. “I just hope nobody has died because of this.”
In Leavenworth, a Facebook post by the city said National Guard help was needed for snow removal, food delivery and checking on residents. The post said some spots had received 48 inches of snow over two days, “causing concern for life safety and structure stability.”
Bothell resident Megan Davis was stuck Friday in Wenatchee, unable to drive back over the mountains with her husband and two children after a couple of days of winter activities.
“I’ve never seen so much snow in one night, ever,” she said.
Information from Seattle Times staff reporters David Kroman, Erik Lacitis and Daisy Zavala, staff photographer Ellen Banner and The Associated Press is included in this report.