One more day of icy roads expected before rain sweeps in

  • Wed Jan 18th, 2012 6:08pm
  • News

By Eric Stevick, Rikki King and Diana Hefley Herald Writers

Warmer weather is on the way, but it probably won’t arrive in time to melt icy roads for commuters Thursday.

A weak system could bring another trace of snow Thursday before rain is expected to move in by week’s end, following Wednesday’s heavy winter storm that dumped a respectable layer of snow on Snohomish County.

“Things probably will start getting better by Friday,” National Weather Service meteorologist Johnny Burg said.

Ice and snow snapped tree branches that brought down power lines, causing thousands of homes to lose electricity. Garbage cans were left untouched on curbsides.

Nearly all Snohomish County school districts by Wednesday evening announced that they were canceling classes again on Thursday. Those included Everett, Edmonds, Marysville, Mukilteo, Arlington, Lake Stevens, Snohomish, Monroe, Sultan, Granite Falls and Index. Other districts were continuing to assess the conditions with plans to make their announcements by Thursday morning. More than 120,000 students had the day off Wednesday as schools across the county kept doors shut.

High temperatures are expected to be in the mid-30s Thursday and to climb into the 40s by Friday, when forecasters are predicting the first of several days of rain.

That won’t help with the drives to and from work Thursday.

“It could be even worse driving conditions on Thursday,” Washington State Patrol trooper Keith Leary said. “It’s going to be another challenging commute.”

The temperatures hovered well below freezing much of Wednesday. Before the major accumulation of snow, state transportation crews treated roads in an effort to keep the snow and ice from sticking. By late Wednesday morning, they’d switched over to spreading salt and sand to break up any compact snow and ice that did form. Nearly 200 plows worked the roads from Olympia to the Canadian border.

Light traffic helped the plows move along and crews were able to focus more on clearing the roads than on unsnarling accidents, said Travis Phelps, a state Department of Transportation spokesman.

Commuters should be prepared for slippery commutes Thursday, he said. There likely will be ice and compact snow on the roads, especially bridges and overpasses. Any slush on the road likely will be frozen, particularly early in the day.

“We’ll still be in the thick of things in the morning,” Phelps said.

Despite the light volumes on highways, the state patrol reported 18 accidents in Snohomish County between midnight and late afternoon Wednesday.

None of the wrecks resulted in life-threatening injuries, but there were some close calls.

A 2004 Lexus slid across two lanes of I-5 and became wedged beneath a semi-truck near the 75th Street overpass in Everett. Part of the car’s top was ripped off from the impact. Two Mountlake Terrace women, 32 and 24, were taken to Providence Regional Medical Center Everett.

Leary said the driver, 32, was trying to change lanes on icy and slush-covered pavement.

“They went rotating and spinning right under the semi-truck,” he said. “It was a case of their speed being way too fast for conditions.”

The snow also provided plenty of recreation. In Edmonds, people could be seen cross-country skiing to their favorite coffee shops and the Puget Sound waterfront. More than 3,000 skiers and snow boarders braved winding U.S. 2 to reach Stevens Pass. That’s triple the number usually seen on a typical winter Wednesday.

Officials warned people to be careful, even if they are just out enjoying the snow.

Late Tuesday, Everett Fire Department crews took a 7-year-old girl to the hospital after she was hit by a car while she was sledding in the road. That accident occurred in the 3900 block of Grand Avenue, city spokeswoman Kate Reardon said.

On side streets in south Everett, few vehicles were out Wednesday. Of those, most were heavy-duty pickups or sport utility vehicles.

The park and ride at McCollum Park was largely empty as many people stayed home.

Despite the nasty weather, Boeing worked on normal schedules at its jet factories across the Puget Sound region, a spokeswoman said.

By late Wednesday afternoon, about 3,500 homes were without power in Snohomish County. That number was expected to drop, providing winds don’t kick up.

Public works crews continued working around the clock to clear city streets, county roads and state highways. Many area cities canceled public meetings and public services.

As of Wednesday afternoon, most local waste companies had suspended service. Both Waste Management and Rubatino Refuse Removal posted on their websites that people may put out the extra trash on their service day next week.

Cascade District Court in Arlington and Evergreen District Court in Monroe also were closed. So was city hall in Mukilteo.

The Everett School District received a good bit of news on Tuesday night: it got back its purloined snow plow.

Everett police found the pickup truck, which was fitted with a snow plow and sanding equipment. The rig was at 33rd Street and Colby Avenue in north Everett, district spokeswoman Mary Waggoner said. It was reported stolen Tuesday morning. It apparently had run out of gas and was abandoned.

So how much snow has fallen?

It depends where one lives. Volunteers from the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network keep daily tabs on precipitation.

As of 7 a.m. Wednesday, they reported snow accumulations of up to nine inches around Lakewood, more than eight inches in Clearview and about four inches around Everett. Wednesday’s snow, which continued for hours, added several inches to many of the totals.

In Darrington, where school officials closed the doors Wednesday, at least two feet of snow was on the ground.

The two-man city crew had been working nearly around the clock plowing the main streets in town.

Most people have moved their vehicles off the side streets so their cars wouldn’t be covered with snow from the plow.

“The crew hasn’t been cursed at yet, so people are doing what needs to be done,” Mayor Dan Rankin said. “And city offices and the library are open for business. I guess the storm is a big deal in the Seattle area.”

Despite the old adage that neither rain, sleet, nor gloom keeps mail from being delivered, U.S. Postal Service spokesman Ernie Swanson said Wednesday that snow may indeed delay the mail.

“Safety is our first consideration,” said Swanson, spokesman for the agency’s Seattle District. “If roads aren’t passable or closed by a local authority, or access to a mailbox is extremely difficult, we do the best we can. There are certainly no guarantees.”

Precision Collision Auto Body shops already were revved up for an expected influx of requests for repairs, marketing director Mark Lovell said. The company runs about five body shops in the Everett-area, in addition to shops throughout the state.

“Every winter, we get busy like this,” he said. “We do staff up for it. We do have processes in place to help keep us efficient.”

Storm-related calls pour in about a day or two after the weather clears, he said. The shops see a lot of banged-up bumpers and fenders, as well as damage from rear-end collisions.

They also see cars that get stuck going up hills and then slide down and strike park vehicles, he said. They also see parked cars that get hit.

People shouldn’t expect delayed repairs because the shops are ready, he said. However, the snow could affect the delivery of extra parts in some places.

Snow by the numbers

Average county temperatures 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesday

Low: 26.1 F

High: 28.9 F

Accumulated snow depth as of 7 a.m. Wednesday

Stanwood: 6.2

Camano Island: 9

Everett: 4

Silverlake: 8

Mill Creek: 8.5

Darrington: 24

1.5 million: Unique visits to the WSDOT website from midnight Tuesday to noon Wednesday

35-40: Accidents per hour in unincorporated Snohomish County since the storm started.

70: Calls per day regarding traffic hazards reported to the sheriff’s office.

1: Number of babies born in stuck elevators statewide because of storm-related power outage

Sources: WSDOT, National Weather Service, Colorado Climate Center map, Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office

Reporters Gale Fiege, Julie Muhlstein, Sharon Salyer, Debra Smith and Noah Haglund contributed to this story.