Widespread Snowstorm Wallops Pacific Northwest

By Salon Staff

Published January 18, 2012 7:00PM (EST)

SEATTLE (AP) — A winter storm blasted the Pacific Northwest Wednesday, dumping near-record snow in some areas, hammering parts of Oregon with winds as high as 110 mph and bringing much of the region to a standstill.

From the Washington state capital in Olympia to the Oregon coast, schools were closed, roads were clogged with snow and hundreds of accidents and dozens of flights were cancelled.

In an eight-hour period near the capital, there were 95 accidents, mostly spinouts, State Trooper Guy Gill said.

"If you get off the beaten path, you're in deep trouble," Gill said. "I saw a guy in my rear mirror. I saw headlights and tail lights and headlights and tail lights again as he spun around off the road."

"For the first time in my career, I had to put chains on," he said. "You stay in the path laid down on the freeway."

Forecasters expect "good old rain back Friday and Saturday," meteorologist Brad Colman said. But warmer weather could lead to icy conditions, and Seattle officials urged people to find and clear street storm drains that could get clogged and cause severe flooding.

Olympia had about a foot of new snow on the ground by 7:30 a.m. The city could break its record of 14 inches of snow in a 24-hour period, Colman said. Areas south of Olympia could get 20 inches.

"They're getting hammered," Colman said.

Tacoma had about 7 inches of snow for the morning rush hour. Seattle had compact snow and ice on roads for commuters. Lesser amounts were reported north of Seattle.

Southeast Washington also is getting a good shot of snow with 6 to 10 inches expected in the Palouse, meteorologist Colby Neuman said. "This will be right up with the most snow this season," Neuman said. "This has been an un-snowy winter."

High winds have begun hammering parts of the Oregon coast and causing power outages, with reports of gusts of 100 mph and more. There were no immediate reports of serious damage.

Heavy snow has been falling in Washington's mountains with up to 2 feet of fresh snow expected by Thursday. Interstate 90 across Snoqualmie Pass was shut down for much of Tuesday for avalanche control work.

Washington residents had plenty of warning as snow showers started over the weekend. With the heavy snow in sight, Seattle and other school districts canceled classes in advance. Alaska Airlines announced late Tuesday that it canceled 38 flights into and out of Seattle and Portland, Ore. Several downtown Seattle hotels reported all their rooms were booked. Elsewhere, shoppers stocked up on groceries.

Many courts and government offices and libraries closed. Garbage collection was postponed. Sen. Patty Murray canceled her event at a Tacoma company where she planned to talk about employing veterans.

Pat Hansen and her 17-year-old daughter, Emily, were taking photos of the growing piles of snow outside the Capitol in Olympia Wednesday morning.

"I love it," said Emily Hansen, who had the day off because Olympia High School was closed, along with most other schools in the region.

Her mom's enthusiasm was more measured. "A day or two it's fun, but after a while you start looking at accidents and slush and flooding," she said.

It was business as usual at the Capitol, where committee hearings were still being held, if not fully attended.

Some state employees drove into work, but others walked in, and at least one employee was seen cross-country skiing to the Capitol campus. The 60-day legislative session began on Jan. 9.


Associated Press writer Rachel La Corte contributed from Olympia, Wash.

Salon Staff

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