Tough travel day ahead as record cold sets in

Tough travel day ahead as record cold sets in
SEATTLE -- It's one of the busiest travel days of the year, but many people in Western Washington may still have trouble getting out of their neighborhoods.

Frigid arctic air set in over the region, meaning snow that fell on Monday wasn't going anywhere. While most freeways and main arterial streets were clear, side streets throughout much of the Puget Sound area remain covered in ice.

Lots of schools again canceled or delayed classes (see full list) because of the dangerous driving conditions, and buses were still unable to reach many areas.

In Kitsap County, more than 32,000 customers are still without power, and Puget Sound Energy had more than 90 crews scrambling to restore electicity.

The temperature dropped to 14 degrees early Wednesday at Sea-Tac Airport, breaking the old record of 16 from 1985, as arctic air put Washington in a deep freeze.

Other areas saw temperatures in the single digits, and the wind chill made it seem even colder.

Seattle officials said 17 trucks are still out spreading salt and the designated snow route roads were mostly bare and dry. Crews are also working to re-open roads closed by ice and snow.

Afternoon temperatures on Wednesday should be a bit higher, but will likely to come up short of the freezing mark.

By Wednesday night, we begin the transition to more familiar autumn weather in the Northwest as the winds turn from the north to the west, ushering in milder air off the Pacific Ocean. In addition, a weak warm front will approach the area late Wednesday night into Thursday morning. This storm has no arctic bones about it -- it's a rainy-and-45 storm at its core, but we still have some cold air entrenched to deal with.

So this will be our next forecast challenge because of those pockets of lingering cold air, and it'll be a race between whether we can warm up enough before the moisture arrives as to whether it starts as snow or rain, and whether it'll even be wet enough to bring anything until Friday.

Scenario A would brings some light precipitation from about Seattle north to the Canadian border, reaching Seattle around late morning/midday Thursday. This will be close as it might briefly start as snow before changing to rain, especially if it arrives earlier in the morning when we're colder. But if it truly is midday arrival, we'll probably be pretty close to being warm enough to rain -- maybe a little period of snow before the changeover. Sounds scary, but unlike Monday, conditions will improve, not deteriorate, as we go forward.

Scenario B keeps the warm front moisture even less and well to the north of Seattle, mainly affecting areas near the Canadian border. That would allow the Puget Sound region a safe transition to warmer weather without the moisture. That doesn't have any rain until late Thursday night into Friday for Puget Sound area, and it's all rain by then. Either way, highs on Thanksgiving should make it well into the 40s.

Bottom line: Wednesday evening travel should be dry, but still around freezing temperatures. We could see a period of snow on Thanksgiving day in spots, but it will change to rain with temperatures safely into the 40s.

Forecast models are pretty consistent that Friday will be back to Seattle normal: Rainy and breezy with highs in the 40s. The rest of the weekend features scattered rain showers and highs in the low-mid 40s.