Storm slams parts of region with over foot of snow

SEATTLE -- A major winter storm struck the Pacific Northwest Wednesday morning, bringing crippling snow amounts to southwestern Washington, several inches of snow to parts of the Puget Sound area, wind chills below zero in Whatcom County and hurricane force winds to the Oregon Coast.

Southwestern Washington took the brunt of the storm, with well over a foot of snow reported across Mason, Lewis and Thurston Counties. A spotter in Chehalis reported 16 inches of new snow Wednesday morning with 21 inches on the ground and snow total between 15 and 20 inches were not uncommon from Olympia southward. Mason County suspended all transit service. Olympia shut down access to all but three of its hills.

Moderate to heavy snow also reached north into the Puget Sound region, with snow totals between 2 and 6 inches common in the Seattle-Tacoma area and about 1-3 inches so far to the north in Snohomish County.

Communities closer to the Canadian border got a round of snow as well on top of the several inches they received Monday. But in addition to the snow, they were dealing with bitter cold temperatures in the teens and low 20s and strong winds expected to gust to 30-40 mph, dropping wind chills to zero or a few degrees below zero.

Schools throughout the area cancelled or delayed the start of classes, and buses in King and Pierce Counties were running on snow routes.

City, county and state road crews were plowing main roads and highways and dropping de-icer, but officials urged drivers to use extreme caution throughout the day. A Winter Storm Warning remains in effect for the Seattle metro area and much of the rest of Western Washington, save for the greater Bellingham area, until 8 p.m.

The snow will continue to fall through the morning and then taper off as we get into the early afternoon. By Wednesday evening, most areas should be dry but cold with temperatures hovering in the upper 20s to low 30s.

Other Warnings Besides The Snow

In addition to the snow, wind and freezing rain are concerns in spots.

A Wind Advisory is in effect for the Whatcom/Skagit/San Juan County area for midnight Wednesday morning through 6 p.m. Wednesday for northeast winds of 35-45 gusting to 55 mph. This will also drop wind chills to near zero and cause freezing spray on the northern waters.

Also a special note for those in southwestern Washington corridor up to about Olympia and maybe Tacoma -- the National Weather Service says there are indications you could go through a period of freezing rain toward the end of the snow event as a little warm air gets in to that area in the midday hours, adding to travel woes down there. Forecasts say as much as 1/10th of an inch of ice accumulation is possible. This would come after a period of heavy snow. It's possible that if the air warms a bit early you'll trade some inches of snow accumulation for greater ice accumulations.

Freezing rain is also possible near the Cascade foothills near the pass outflows.

Avalanche Danger Extreme in Cascades

Four to 8 inches of snow might sound like a lot around Puget Sound, but it's child's play in the mountains. The Cascades are forecast to get anywhere from 18 to 36 inches of new snow Wednesday into Wednesday night. Avalanche warnings are up and conditions couldn't be more extreme. Expect frequent and lengthy delays trying to get over the passes for avalanche control.

Some good news for those who don't want snow

Now, how about some good news for those who are not happy with snow? Models now indicate snow tapers off late Wednesday afternoon which would help give road crews time to clear the roads in time for Thursday. No changeover to rain likely though for Seattle-Tacoma and points north, so no help from warmer weather to melt the snow, but on the other hand, it should prevent any heavy snow weight issues.

Models show areas from Seattle north stay dry and cold Wednesday night with likely icing concerns Thursday morning. Another wave of moisture passes across southwestern Washington on Thursday that could bring another round of snow to the south Sound and southwestern Washington, but not as much and Seattle is on the extreme northern edge.

By Friday, we warm up but stay quite stormy with more traditional steady rains, gusty winds and heavy mountain snow continuing. Cascades could see several feet by the end of the weekend, maybe even approaching 70-80 inches of new snow in the central Cascades using rough model estimations.

General Recap

* Steady snow will continue fall until around noon or just after noon. * Heaviest snow totals in Olympia, Hood Canal & Southwestern Washington of 10-20", possible ice-freezing rain toward end of event mid-morning.
* Tacoma area and central coast and South/Central Kitsap, 4-8"
* Cascade foothills 2-5", possible freezing rain at end of snow event in midday/early afternoon
* Seattle area/Norrth Kitsap: 2-6"
* Everett area: 1-3"
* Bellingham / Northwest Interior: 0-2", gusty northeast winds to 55 mph. Freezing spray on waters
* 2-3 feet of new snow in Cascades. Avalanche danger extreme. Lengthy delays possible in passes for avalanche control.* Snow just ends in the afternoon, no change to rain except perhaps far southern Washington
* Cold Wednesday night with below freezing temps for icy commute Thursday morning.
* Perhaps some light snow Seattle south on Thursday, best chance south of Olympia.
* Warming up Friday into the weekend, but remaining stormy with rain, wind and snow.


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