Snow squall hits Puget Sound area during evening commute

Snow squall hits Puget Sound area during evening commute
SEATTLE - Driving around the Puget Sound area has been a challenge for a solid 36 hours now, and Monday evening was no different.

A line of snow moved into the I-5 corridor from about Northgate north through Everett at the start of the Monday evening commute, then gradually spread south through Seattle and Bellevue and into the South Sound areas, making for a very tough commute home.

Department of Transportation camera images showed snow coating I-5, I-405 and the side streets, with traffic at a crawl and a few spinouts here and there. One accident involving a bus blocked I-5 south in Shoreline. Another accident on I-405 north near Bothell turned the Eastside commute into a disaster. More traffic accidents were spread across Renton area, and SR-522 was closed due to heavy snow.

At one point Monday evening, our Beat the Traffic Point-to-Point travel time between Bellevue and Everett along I-405 was 130 minutes. It was 112 minutes from Seattle to Everett on I-5. But going the other way wasn't any better. Bellevue to Federal Way was at 110 minutes.

Overall, the storm has dumped as much as 2 feet of snow n some parts of Washington state and left thousands of people without power.

"There's cars in the ditches all up and down the road," said Don Bowman, who drove 20 miles from Blaine, near the Canadian border, to Bellingham to buy tire chains after he was unable to find any still available in his hometown.

In Seattle, Qwest Field, the home of the Seattle Seahawks, turned into a winter wonderland just in time for their Monday night game against the Green Bay Packers - no strangers to harsh winter conditions. Steady snow began falling 20 minutes before kickoff.

Much of the heaviest snowfall had been in northwest Washington's Whatcom County, with more than a foot falling in Ferndale by Monday morning. But later Monday, a low pressure system moved in over Island, Skagit and Snohomish counties, accompanied by an arctic front that was pushing more snow south into Seattle and King County.

More snow, combined with low temperatures, was expected to make ice a problem for commuters on Tuesday as well. About 1 to 3 inches were expected in Seattle, where a snow advisory was in effect through 5 a.m. Tuesday.

The snowfall was capping off a month of heavy rain in Seattle - and was possibly enough to help make November the wettest single month since record-keeping began. As of Monday, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, where official measurements are kept, had received 15.08 inches of precipitation - the most since 15.33 inches were recorded in downtown Seattle in December 1933.

"It's kind of ironic that after all that rain we could be breaking the record with snow," said National Weather Service meteorologist Danny Mercer in Seattle. "It doesn't happen this way very often."

North of Seattle in Snohomish County, where as much as 10 inches of snow were expected, 21,000 customers were without power Monday afternoon, down from about 40,000 earlier in the day, said Snohomish Public Utility District spokesman Neil Neroutsos.

Rural parts of Skagit County, near the town of Concrete, reported 24 inches of snow Monday. Puget Sound Energy spokeswoman Dorothy Bracken said crews were working to restore about 100 small outages, each affecting one to seven customers, in Skagit, Whatcom, Island and Kitsap counties.

"We're working on restoring power from Sunday's storm, but today's weather brought in new outages in those same areas," she said.

In Eastern Washington, temperatures were expected to drop to single digits later in the week - a concern considering that roads are already slick with ice and snow following snowfall Sunday and Monday. The storm dumped 5 inches of snow in Leavenworth, 7 inches in Winthrop, 8 inches in Kettle Falls and 3.5 inches in Spokane, where law enforcement agencies were swamped by traffic accident calls.

Washington State Patrol troopers had responded to 170 crashes in the Spokane area by Monday morning, Trooper Mark Baker said.

"The main problem is drivers going too fast for conditions," he said.

In central Washington, which received as much as 7 inches of snow, a Bridgeport woman and her two sons died in a two-vehicle crash on Highway 2/97 near Orondo on Sunday evening.

In southwestern Washington, a tractor-trailer jackknifed on Interstate 5, causing a 14-car accident with no major injuries, said State Patrol Sgt. Monica Hunter.

Classes were canceled in many school districts around the state.