Widespread Snowstorm Wallops Pacific Northwest

Published January 18, 2012 10:09PM (EST)

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — A winter storm that packed winds of 100 mph and dumped more than a foot of snow in the Pacific Northwest could soon give way to another threat: Warmer temperatures and the potential for flooding.

On Wednesday, at least, some residents in Washington state's capital tried to find a way to enjoy the abundance of snow in a region unfamiliar with huge snowfalls.

"I love it," said teenager Emily Hansen, who had the day off from high school and spent the morning with her mother taking photos of the growing piles of snow outside the Capitol.

Her mother, however, was more measured, mindful of what the days ahead will bring.

"A day or two it's fun, but after a while you start looking at accidents and slush and flooding," Pat Hansen said.

From Olympia to the Oregon coast, the storm closed schools, caused dozens of flight cancellations and clogged roads with snow and hundreds of accidents.

Olympia had nearly a foot of new snow on the ground by late morning. Nearly 11 inches was measured at the airport Wednesday. The record is 14.2 inches on Jan. 24, 1972.

Lewis County, south of Olympia, had the highest snowfall amounts, ranging from 12 to 17 inches.

"It's unusual to get this much snow for western Washington, especially in this amount," said Dennis D'Amico, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Seattle.

"A storm that that may drop upward of a foot on Olympia, that's pretty significant," he said. "Whether it's over 12 hours or six hours, it's still a lot of snow to deal with."

Areas south of Olympia could get 20 inches, but areas north, such as Seattle, are seeing much less.

Thursday's forecast was for a mix of snow and rain, which concerned emergency management officials.

"We want to know how the weather pattern is going to change on us here," said Rob Harper, a spokesman for Washington's Emergency Management Division.

The National Weather Service warned that urban and small stream flooding was possible Friday.

Also, forecasters warned that heavy rain combined with snow melt could lead to some river flooding, especially in the Chehalis River Basin, an area that has been hit by significant floods in recent years.

Officials in Lewis County said they didn't have concerns about flooding in the Chehalis River, but were monitoring the amount of snow they receive.

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.

Many courts and government offices and libraries closed. Garbage collection was postponed. Several Seattle hotels reported all their rooms were booked. Elsewhere, shoppers stocked up on groceries.

Over a 24-hour period ending at 9 a.m. Wednesday, the Washington State Patrol responded to nearly 500 collisions on western Washington roads, spokesman Bob Calkins said.

"I saw a guy in my rear mirror," said State Trooper Guy Gill. "I saw headlights and tail lights and headlights and tail lights again as he spun around off the road."

In Oregon, high winds hammered parts of the coast and caused power outages to tens of thousands of customers, with reports of gusts of 110 mph and more. There were no immediate reports of serious damage.

At the Capitol in Washington state, it was business as usual.

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

In Tacoma, which had about 7 inches of snow for the morning rush hour, a kilt-clad, barelegged Charles Hetrick frolicked with his dog in a park.

"I've worn nothing but kilts for the last six years, so I didn't even think about it when I put it on this morning," Hetrick said.


Associated Press writers Doug Esser contributed from Seattle, Ted Warren contributed from Tacoma, Wash., and J.J. Cooper contributed from Portland, Ore.

By Salon Staff

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