Ice Storm Blankets Washington Day After Snowstorm

Published January 19, 2012 5:09PM (EST)

SEATTLE (AP) — A monster Pacific Northwest storm coated Washington with freezing rain on Thursday and brought much of the state to a standstill as the Seattle airport temporarily shut down, tens of thousands of people lost power and hundreds of cars slid off roads a day after the region was hit with a major snowfall.

The storm claimed at least one life — a child whose body was pulled from an Oregon creek where a car was swept away from a grocery store parking lot. Rescuers also searched Thursday for an adult missing in the creek in the Willamette Valley community of Albany, about 70 miles south of Portland, said fire department spokeswoman Wanda Omdahl.

On the icy interstate north of Seattle, a transportation department worker responding to an accident was injured in crash. He was taken to a Seattle hospital; no details were available on his condition or how he was injured.

Freezing rain and ice pellets caused numerous accidents in the Seattle area, where drivers are mostly inexperienced with driving in snow or ice. The last widespread freezing rain in Seattle was in December 1996, said meteorologist Jeff Michalski at the Weather Service office in Seattle.

The National Weather Service used the Emergency Alert System to break into Thursday morning broadcasts with an ice storm warning until noon for the Seattle area and southwest Washington. Among the concerns were widespread power outages and the threat that structures could collapse under the weight of ice. The Washington State Patrol said some if its troopers brought chain saws to work Thursday, so they could quickly remove downed trees on highways and roads.

Authorities are also worried about flooding in the coming days as temperatures warm up.

"It's a very dangerous situation," with a major impact on roads, said Brad Colman, the meteorologist in charge of the Weather Service office in Seattle. "We're expecting a significant impact on power."

Ice closed Sea-Tac Airport completely in the early morning before one runway was reopened, but taxiways remain a problem even as runways were deiced. Many morning flights were delayed or canceled. Forecasters expect up to 0.4 inch of ice before temperatures rise above freezing by afternoon.

The state Transportation Department closed one highway because of falling trees that also took out power lines. Puget Sound Energy reported 70,000 outages at 7 a.m. Thursday, after crews had already brought 46,000 customers back on line since Wednesday.

"It's like a storm in slow motion that keeps happening again and again," said PSE spokesman Roger Thompson.

The ice follows a huge snowfall on Wednesday. Nearly a foot of new snow fell in Olympia, Wash., where 11 inches was measured at the airport. The record is 14.2 inches on Jan. 24, 1972.

Oregon didn't receive the snowfall that Washington did — but got plenty of rain.

Rising water from heavy rains swept a car carrying several people into an overflowing creek in Albany. Two people escaped but one child's body was recovered and an adult was still missing.

"The water just got high so fast," Omdahl said. "It's a big tragedy."

Washington State University in Pullman was closed. The University of Washington also cancelled Thursday classes at three campuses, including Seattle. Seattle schools were also closed again Thursday, as were schools in Bellingham in northwest Washington, and in southeast Washington's Pasco, Kennewick and Richland.

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," said Dennis D'Amico, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Seattle.

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

The storm caused hundreds of accidents but no fatalities.

"I saw a guy in my rear mirror," said Washington State Patrol trooper Guy Gill. "I saw headlights and taillights and headlights and taillights again as he spun around off the road."

In Oregon, high winds hammered parts of the coast and caused power outages that initially affected tens of thousands of customers, with reports of gusts as high as 113 mph. There were no immediate reports of serious damage.


Associated Press writers Doug Esser and Gene Johnson in Seattle, Ted Warren in Tacoma, Wash., and Jonathan J. Cooper in Portland, Ore., contributed to this report.

By Salon Staff

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