SEATTLE – Snowstorms that dumped as much as 2 feet of snow on parts of Washington state turned freeways and streets into icy gridlock and left thousands of people without power.
More than 350,000 students in the central Puget Sound area alone got snow holidays Tuesday, including roughly 76,000 in Seattle and Tacoma, following traffic nightmares for tens of thousands of commuters Monday evening. In schools that were open, classes were delayed for tens of thousands of students.
The snowfall followed a month of heavy rain in Seattle, which edged closer to a one-month precipitation record. As of early Tuesday the total was 15.26 inches at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, where official measurements are kept, .07 inches short of the 15.33 inches recorded at the old Federal Building 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."
Clearing was predicted through Tuesday with mostly clear skies Wednesday and warmer weather with some rain expected Thursday.
In northcentral Washington, which received as much as 7 inches of snow, a Bridgeport woman and her two sons died Sunday evening in a two-vehicle crash near Orondo.
Two feet of snow was recorded by nightfall Monday in Concrete, a small town in central Skagit County about 70 miles north-northeast of Seattle.
By contrast, snowfall of barely a few inches was enough to play hob with traffic around Seattle, better known for drizzle from mid-fall to mid-spring and generally lacking in snow removal and sanding equipment for all but the freeways and a few major arterials and hillsides.
Widely varying snowfall also is common as moisture-laden air masses and arctic winds off the Pacific Ocean are diverted by mountains and through narrow passages over water, splitting and converging to leave one place nearly snow-free while dropping half a foot or more a few miles away.
Qwest Field, the home of the Seattle Seahawks, was a winter wonderland in time for the NFL's Monday night game with the Green Bay Packers — no strangers to harsh winter conditions.
By midnight downtown Seattle streets were clear, but it was another story in the suburbs and many outlying areas in all directions.
Dozens of tractor-trailer rigs were off Interstate 5 Tuesday morning on a hill beside the Southcenter shopping mall south of Seattle.
Police and towtruck operators couldn't keep up with cars sliding off Interstate 405 Monday evening in the suburbs east of Lake Washington. Some needed hours for travel that normally would take 30 minutes, extending the rush hour into prime time.
"It's unbelievable. It's like I'm driving in Alaska out here," said Trooper Jeff Merrill of the Washington State Patrol, from directing drivers near I-405 and State Route 527 in Bothell.
Much of the heaviest snowfall over the weekend was in northwest Washington, with more than a foot recorded in Ferndale by Monday morning. Later in the day a low pressure system passed over Island, Skagit and Snohomish counties north of Seattle, accompanied by a cold front that brought snow to Seattle and the rest of King County.
In Snohomish County, a total of about 40,000 customers were without power late Monday and 16,000 people at daybreak Tuesday, Snohomish Public Utility District officials said.
Puget Sound Energy spokeswoman Dorothy Bracken said crews were working to restore about 100 small outages Tuesday, each affecting one to a dozen or more homes and businesses, in Skagit, Whatcom, Island and Kitsap counties.