Snow Day!

Snow Day!
SEATTLE - Normally, Seattle boasts that it's only a 45-minute trip to the mountains to get your skiing in during the winter.

Tuesday, a 4 or 5 minute trip to Queen Anne was all that was needed to shred some powder.

Much of Western Washington took a snow day Tuesday as the most widespread storm since 1996 dumped up to a foot in places. But while courts, schools, universities, city offices and many businesses took the day off, critical workers - police, firefighters, road crews, coffee-shop baristas - were on the job.

"This is Seattle. They never close the coffee shops," said Grady Leno, before careering down normally traffic-clogged Virginia Street on his tarp-covered ironing board.

Uptown Espresso barista Chris Wright was on duty until 5 p.m. "It looks like fabulous fun," she lamented.

Seattle received about 4 1/2 inches of snow by evening, enough to cause havoc among those who did venture out. While police closed many of the steeper streets the city's hills, stray cars still littered some roads.

"It's a 50-50 thing. About every other one gets stuck. Some people should not be driving at all," said Ed Guiler, who was helping drivers get unstuck on Seattle's steep Capitol Hill. His secret: kitty litter underneath the tires.

Guiler's friend and co-helper, Brian Bower, said he was having fun despite the snow and cold.

"There's really a camaraderie on the streets here," Bower said. "Everyone really bonds together. It's kind of nice."

With several streets covered and closed to traffic, snow-deprived denizens converged on the hills. Onlookers cheered wildly as people plowed down on sleds, skis, snowboards, inner tubes, garbage can lids, scrap metal, skateboards, cardboard boxes, plastic bags or nothing at all. Brian Anderson, 25, and a few friends even took a ride on a "borrowed" Seattle Center parking lot sign.

"We don't have many sleds because it doesn't snow much around here," Leno said.

By far one of the most popular spots was Queen Anne's "Counterbalance" -- Queen Anne Avenue North that runs the 400 feet or so from the top to bottom of Queen Anne. It was closed to traffic due to icy roads, but that didn't stop hundreds of kids and kids at heart from gathering and skiing, sledding, innertubing, snowboarding, or just plain sliding down the hillside.

"Super fun!" was the verdict of Lara Stokes, 33, who slid down the hill on a garbage can lid with her husband.

The occasional car crept around the base of the hill, but carefully avoided the frolickers.

"We saw some snowboarders going down through the intersection, but they had the light," Stokes said.

Seattle-area shelter supervisors said their operations had been overflowing with the homeless during the cold snap. Union Gospel Mission, which usually has a capacity of 105, was housing upwards of 155 men.

The city opened shelters at the Public Safety Building downtown, at the Frye Hotel and at Seattle Center.

Despite the weather, relatively few accidents or power outages were reported. Many people heeded warnings Monday and remained home.

But one who didn’t heed warnings or common sense rode a recreational vehicle on a lightly-frozen Lake Tapps southeast of Seattle. Except he plunged through the ice, prompting a successful 25-person rescue effort.

Light winds were blowing the powdery snow off runways at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, so plowing wasn't necessary, said airport spokesman Bob Parker. Although some flights could be delayed by aircraft deicing, Parker said the most airlines were operating without significant delays.

The Tacoma Narrows Bridge was blocked for two hours after a Pierce Transit bus spun out, and Interstate 5 through downtown Seattle was briefly blocked by a jackknifed truck. Traffic was light in many places, as Seattle and Tacoma schools closed and many non-emergency government and business workers were told to stay home. Classes also were canceled at University of Washington campuses in Seattle, Bothell and Tacoma, and at The Evergreen State College in near Olympia.

In recent years, Seattle has received only sporadic light snowfalls, leaving many residents unaccustomed to urban winter driving. The city's hills, numerous bridges and normally bad traffic also discourage people from driving when the roads turn slick.

As for other areas, most snow totals ranged from 2-3 inches in the North Sound, to 3-6 inches in the Seattle, Tacoma, and Bellevue areas. Higher amounts nearing 10 inches were reported along the Hood Canal and northern coast, and reports nearing a foot or more were common in the southern Washington interior. Eatonville had a report of 12 inches.

Those in eastern King and Pierce County got their snow sideways as strong easterly winds to 60 mph blew through the Cascade passes, causing near whiteout conditions with the falling snow.

Most of the snow was pretty much gone by Tuesday evening. However, many others had to battle freezing rain before getting back to the familiar Seattle rains. More rain was expected the rest of the week, with potential for river flooding. Check the KOMO Weather Center for the latest forecast.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.