Washington State Snowstorms Leave Thousands Powerless

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A storm that dumped as much as 2 feet of snow Monday on some parts of Washington state turned freeways and and city streets into icy gridlock and left thousands of people without power.

"There's cars in the ditches all up and down the road," said Don Bowman, who drove 20 miles from Blaine, near the Canadian border, to Bellingham to buy tire chains after he was unable to find any still available in his hometown.

Much of the heaviest weekend snowfall had been in northwest Washington's Whatcom County, with more than a foot falling in Ferndale by Monday morning. But later Monday, a low pressure system moved in over Island, Skagit and Snohomish counties, accompanied by an arctic front that pushed more snow south into Seattle and King County.

In Seattle, Qwest Field, the home of the Seattle Seahawks, turned into a winter wonderland just in time for their Monday night game against the Green Bay Packers — no strangers to harsh winter conditions. Steady snow began falling 20 minutes before kickoff.

The Seahawks won, 34-24, but fans heading home after the game in many cases encountered icy, snowy gridlock.

Roads were already a mess by the Monday evening commute in Everett, north Seattle and Seattle's eastern suburbs, with cars sliding off Interstate 405.

That evening commute turned into an hours-long nightmare for many. One couple left Seattle at 6:30 p.m., headed south on Interstate 5 toward their Tacoma home about 35 miles away. By 10:30 p.m., they were only two-thirds of the way there, creeping on the icy highway around abandoned cars and spunout buses and trucks.

A state Department of Transportation spokesman, Greg Phipps, said the agency had roughly 45 plows, sanders and deicing trucks out on Seattle-area freeways at any one time Monday night, but noted the snowstorm hit Seattle right in the middle of evening rush hour just before the football game.

"We're working with the State Patrol to respond as fast as we can with available equipment," he said late Monday night, adding the State Patrol was responding to roughly 150 collisions or disabled vehicles in King County alone.

The snowfall was capping off a month of heavy rain in Seattle — which was edging closer to a wettest-single-month record. As of 10 p.m. Monday, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, where official measurements are kept, had received 15.26 inches of precipitation — just .07 inches short of the 15.33 inches recorded in downtown Seattle in December 1933.

"It's kind of ironic that after all that rain we could be breaking the record with snow," said National Weather Service meteorologist Danny Mercer in Seattle. "It doesn't happen this way very often."

North of Seattle in Snohomish County, where as much as 10 inches of snow were expected, 21,000 customers were without power Monday afternoon, down from about 40,000 earlier in the day, said Snohomish Public Utility District spokesman Neil Neroutsos.

Rural parts of Skagit County, near the town of Concrete, reported 24 inches of snow Monday. Puget Sound Energy spokeswoman Dorothy Bracken said crews were working to restore about 100 small outages, each affecting one to seven customers, in Skagit, Whatcom, Island and Kitsap counties.

"We're working on restoring power from Sunday's storm, but today's weather brought in new outages in those same areas," she said.

In Eastern Washington, temperatures were expected to drop to single digits later in the week — a concern considering that roads are already slick with ice and snow following snowfall Sunday and Monday. The storm dumped 5 inches of snow in Leavenworth, 7 inches in Winthrop, 8 inches in Kettle Falls and 3.5 inches in Spokane, where law enforcement agencies were swamped by traffic accident calls.

Washington State Patrol troopers had responded to 170 crashes in the Spokane area by Monday morning, Trooper Mark Baker said.

"The main problem is drivers going too fast for conditions," he said.

In central Washington, which received as much as 7 inches of snow, a Bridgeport woman and her two sons died in a two-vehicle crash on Highway 2/97 near Orondo on Sunday evening.

In southwestern Washington, a tractor-trailer jackknifed on Interstate 5, causing a 14-car accident with no major injuries, said State Patrol Sgt. Monica Hunter.

Classes were canceled in many school districts around the state.