Ice snarls morning commute

Ice snarls morning commute »Play Video
SEATTLE - After a day of snow and a miserable Monday evening commute, Tuesday was much worse. In fact for some, the Tuesday morning commute was an extension of a futile attempt to finish the Monday evening commute, and the State Patrol advised everyone in the region to just stay off the roads.

More than 350,000 students in the central Puget Sound area alone got snow holidays Tuesday, including roughly 76,000 in Seattle and Tacoma, following traffic nightmares for tens of thousands of commuters Monday evening. In schools that were open, classes were delayed for tens of thousands of students.

Snow and slush that fell yesterday has frozen on many roads throughout the Puget Sound area as temperatures plummeted into the teens and 20s overnight, and dozens of spinouts and crashes overnight kept troopers and transportation crews very busy.

Compact snow and ice covered much of Interstate 5 on Tuesday morning, slowing traffic to a crawl and forcing some drivers to simply give up and stop on the freeway. Interstate 405 on the eastside was littered with abandoned cars from drivers who simply gave up and decided to walk.

The State Patrol said troopers responded to 653 calls in King County, and handled more than 240 collisions.

Transportation officials said many of the people on the roads early Tuesday were those who had been trying to get home since Monday night. Many of those stranded were those trying to get home from the Seattle Seahawks game that ended around 9:30. With traffic at nearly a standstill in many areas some commuters reported being on the road for nearly eight hours. DOT cameras showing freeways at 2 a.m. looked jammed just like what they typically would show at 5 p.m.

Parking lots near major interstates were full of people who couldn't make it home Monday night and decided to get off the roads and sleep in their cars.

Dozens of tractor-trailer rigs were off Interstate 5 Tuesday morning on a hill beside the Southcenter shopping mall south of Seattle.

Police and towtruck operators couldn't keep up with cars sliding off Interstate 405 Monday evening in the suburbs east of Lake Washington.

"It's unbelievable. It's like I'm driving in Alaska out here," said Trooper Jeff Merrill of the Washington State Patrol, from directing drivers near I-405 and State Route 527 in Bothell.

Temperatures dropped as low as 25 in Seattle, 20 in Everett, and into the low teens in Whatcom and Skagit County. And temperatures Tuesday night were expected to be another 2-6 degrees colder as more arctic air pours into the region.

Meanwhile, the snow and ice in the Puget Sound area have left thousands of utility customers without electricity.

In Snohomish County, a total of about 40,000 customers were without power late Monday and 16,000 people at daybreak Tuesday, Snohomish Public Utility District officials said. Spokesman Mike Thorne says it has 52 crews working, with help from utilities in Eastern Washington. Although they say they're having trouble getting to some of the spots due to icy roads.

Thorne says there's no estimate on when the power will be back on for everyone, especially considering the treacherous roads.

Puget Sound Energy spokeswoman Dorothy Bracken says the utility has 100 scattered outages, and she couldn't say how many customers are affected.

Most are in rural areas of Island, Kitsap, Jefferson, Skagit and Whatcom counties. She says crews should restore most of the outages today. But one area will take at least until tomorrow. That's in Skagit County between Hamilton and Concrete where crews have to hike through snow two feet deep to reach downed lines.

Sea-Tac Airport is open and ready for business, but spokesman Bob Parker says getting there on icy roads is a problem for some travelers and airline and security staff. He says runways and taxiways are in good shape, but airlines may delay take-offs for de-icing.

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

Many major school districts were forced to cancel classes on Tuesday. Check the list here

"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.

The Seahawks won, 34-24, but fans heading home after the game in many cases encountered icy, snowy gridlock.

Roads were already a mess by the Monday evening commute in Everett, north Seattle and Seattle's eastern suburbs, with cars sliding off Interstate 405.

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 15.24 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."

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.

As cold as Monday night was around the area, it was expected to get considerably colder Tuesday night, with overnight temperatures dropping to the 12-17 degree range around most of western Washington, and single digits in the Whatcom and San Juan County areas.