Gov. Chris Gregoire declared a winter storm emergency Wednesday as many Western Washington residents hoped for a traditional rainy Christmas after a week of heavy snow, jammed airports, closed roads and cabin fever.
"A number of counties and cities are struggling to meet the problems posed by this month's onslaught of snow and winter weather," Gregoire wrote. "Snowfall has reached record or near-record level in 30 of the state's 39 counties."
Her proclamation directed state agencies to support local emergency responses, freeing funds and activating the National Guard, the Washington State Guard and State Emergency Operations Center at Camp Murray, by Fort Lewis.
States of emergency were previously declared locally in King, Pierce, Snohomish and Thurston counties, the municipalities of Spokane, Spokane Valley and Gig Harbor and the Makah Indian Tribe.
Gregoire also issued a 10-day temporary waiver of rules that limit the number of hours that a truck driver can haul bulk milk from farms to dairies, a move intended to avoid losses of nearly $1 million a day if milk failed to reach dairies within the time limits set by health regulations.
Temperatures rose and light rain was falling across the western part of the state Wednesday, melting some of the ice on streets and roads, but the National Weather Service forecast one more round of snow Christmas morning. Starting Friday, highs were forecast to reach the low 40s in most areas west of the Cascade Range.
At Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, more than two dozen people were treated for eye irritation Wednesday after deicing fumes entered the cabin of a Boeing 737-800 waiting at an airport gate, Sea-Tac spokeswoman Terri-Ann Betancourt said.
Alaska Airlines flight 528 to Burbank, Calif., with 143 passengers and six crew members on board, was being deiced for departure, she said. "Some deicing fumes made their way into the plane and it's a pretty good eye irritant."
Airline spokeswoman Caroline Boren said paramedics treated 25 people — 18 passengers and six crew members and an off-duty flight attendant — with the most serious treatment being an eye wash. The seven employees were taken to a nearby hospital to be checked out as a precaution, standard procedure for the airline after such incidents, Boren said.
All the passengers were put aboard another plane to Burbank. Officials were investigating how the fumes got into the plane, Boren said.
The last of an estimated 4,000 passengers who had been stranded by weekend storms at the airport were gone by Tuesday, Betancourt said. More snow fell at the airport south of Seattle, but she said the only delays or cancelations were because of problems at other airports.
Like many in the state, she was tired of the snow.
"I've lived here 16 years and this is the first time I've thought, 'I wish it would rain,"' she said.
She got her wish, albeit briefly. The weather service predicted 2 more inches of snow for the Seattle area on Christmas, followed by slowly rising warming temperatures and rain into the weekend.
For the Cascades and the eastern half of the state, forecast remained unrelenting winter. Winter storm warnings were posted for the Cascades and Olympics, most of Eastern Washington and parts of northwest Washington. Spokane was expected to get another 5 to 9 inches of snow atop a heavy layer from weeks of storms.
Up to 18 inches of snow was forecast for parts of the Cascades and up to 4 inches of snow in Bellingham by Christmas morning, 4 to 7 inches in Pullman in the southeastern corner of the state, 4 to 8 inches around Moses Lake in the center and 3 to 6 inches at Wenatchee in central Washington.
Seattle awoke to light snow falling on mostly commuter-free streets as many residents stayed home the day before Christmas.
In Spokane, tempers were starting to fray. Police reported that a 53-year-old man was arrested for investigation of felony harassment after he was accused of threatening snow plow drivers.
Officers said the man was armed with a gun Tuesday when he came out of his house and yelled at a driver not to block his house with a snow berm. A few minutes later, an anonymous call was made to the Street Department saying that any plow driver that came down that street would be shot. Police said the call was traced to the man's house.