It was the snow that was so different from Seattle: fluffy, light, not Cascade Concrete. And it arrived in such a well-behaved, whispered way on a Friday evening of a three day vacation weekend.
We make winter storms better than most. Ask former Mayor Greg Nickels about the political dangers of the Seattle snow storms. An epic snowfall just before Christmas 2008, which the city struggled to clear for two weeks of freezing temperatures, could have affected his chances of re-election.
That snowfall wasn’t such an event. Of course, it wasn’t fun for people who still had to go to work. And one more frustration for people whose long-awaited appointments for a COVID vaccination have been postponed. Sidewalks could be sloppy and even treacherous and streets could be the same, and the cold was especially dangerous for homeless people.
But there was no big wind, no drama. It wasn’t even particularly cold. It was just a nice soft snowfall and a pretty picture. Saturday morning brought more of it, with the flakes still falling slightly. It was perfect for playing outside. And who didn’t need that in the middle of this endless pandemic?
The fun continued on Sunday, because even in the smallest town courtyard, the children went for snowman sculptures. There were snowballs on the wing. The dogs kicked up and Blizzard, the polar bear at Point Defiance Zoo, plowed its nose through the drifts.
The neighbors had the opportunity to help each other shovel and do the job. Sometimes they saw each other on the sidewalk for the first time in many long, claustrophobic weeks.
The winter storm flooded Portland, and there were nearly 300,000 people without electricity on Saturday afternoon. Freezing rain coated roads, power lines and trees with ice. Kate Brown, Governor of Oregon, declared a state of emergency.
In fact, much of the country was locked in an ice box of wintry chaos all weekend. Storms and extreme cold struck much of the western United States and were especially dangerous for people affected by homelessness.
The authorities in western Washington and western Oregon opened thermal protection rooms to protect homeless residents from the wet and cold. Seattle has its emergency response center up and running, and the crews have been on duty at utility companies handling everything from power outages to floods.
But Seattle mostly had a dreamy break on a snow day. The electricity stayed on, the trees stayed tall. The snow fell like feathers.
At SeaTac Airport, the weather service recorded a total of 12.4 inches of snow, 2.2 inches on Friday, 8.9 inches on Saturday and 1.3 inches on Sunday. Some parts of the area had even more: Tumwater, in Thurston County, only had 13.5 inches of snow on Saturday, according to the National Weather Service’s Seattle office.
Seattle, a city full of hills, became a winter playground. People took out their cross-country skis and snowshoes and walked through the middle of the neighborhood streets.
In some parts of the city the newspapers never came. Neither did the mail. Why not spend Sunday – Valentine’s Day after all – making homemade Valentines and cocoa?
In the late Sunday afternoon, the temperatures warmed up to 34 degrees. But there was no rain flood, no great flood or disorder. It’s just … slightly warmed up.
As the evening light began to soften the brightness of the snow, the weather service determined that the warmer air had penetrated the area and temperatures would continue to weaken as the warm air flowed northward throughout the evening.
Most locations were predicted to “transition well” from snow to rain, a phrase that is not often used in weather service meetings.
But this was a Seattle-beautiful event, if at all, with only the slightest passive-aggressive undertone. In this case translated: “However, there is still a slim chance that there will be freezing rain in the lowlands from approximately Seattle to Burlington by evening.”
If freezing rain did occur, it was likely spotty and no ice accumulation was expected, the briefing reported.
Elsewhere, freezing rain has been predicted in the valleys of the Cascade Foothills, particularly from King County to southern Snohomish County, by early Monday, with ice accumulating up to a fifth of an inch.
The rain was predicted to continue on Monday, which can lead to flooding in the city depending on how much rain falls on the snowpack and how quickly it all melts. However, it was expected that the rain would be very light, only about an inch on Monday afternoon, said Mary Butlin, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Seattle office.
The weight of the snow – especially when it rains – can also cause some branches to fall and power outages to occur.
As of Sunday evening, there had been a total of 33 outages across the Puget Sound region, according to Puget Sound Energy, affecting 2,538 customers.
The usual weather in Seattle this week should set in with temperatures in the 40s. So there is no threat of major refreeze events. Apparently it’s for snow now. And maybe for the winter.
Summer time comes on March 14th – and the first day of spring is only a little over a month away.
Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.
Lynda V. Mapes:
206-464-2515 or [email protected]; on Twitter: @LyndaVMapes. Lynda specializes in reporting on the environment, natural history, and Indian tribes.