"It took me 3 1/2 hours to go 10 miles and I didn't even get home"

"It took me 3 1/2 hours to go 10 miles and I didn't even get home"
SEATTLE (AP) - For Mark Malamud, Susan Hautala and 9-year-old son Jasper, Tuesday's bright skies and thin sheen of ice and snow provided a welcome respite from a dreary month of near-record rain. They headed to a gentle slope atop Queen Anne Hill, where Jasper joined dozens of other youngsters in challenging conventional wisdom about how much snow is needed to operate a sled.

"It is kind of funny with all the grass sticking up," Hautala said.

For thousands of other people, though, a dose of rare Puget Sound snow Monday night wasn't so appreciated. Tales quickly spread of suburban commutes so horrific as to render Seattle housing prices safe for at least a generation. Some football fans reported spending eight hours or more getting home on icy roads after the Seattle Seahawks game, while other drivers became so frustrated that they simply abandoned their cars on the freeway.

Jennifer Pack's commute home from work Monday - a 45-minute affair on good days - lasted until noon Tuesday.

"It took me 3½ hours to go 10 miles and I didn't even get home," said Pack, a 33-year-old loan officer at Seattle Credit Union Center who lives in the northern suburb of Kenmore. "I checked into a hotel. There were buses stranded on the side of the road, a lot of pickup trucks with rear-wheel drive that weren't going anywhere - just spinning their wheels. I got to the hotel and they were letting people stay in the lobby and in the dining room where they usually have the continental breakfast."

So how much snow did Seattle get? Oh, 1 to 3 inches in the city, much of it during the Monday evening rush-hour, and as much as 5 or 6 inches in the surrounding suburbs, according to the National Weather Service. It was accompanied by low temperatures that kept much of it from melting Tuesday, and prompted the closure of schools for hundreds of thousands of students in the central Puget Sound region alone.

Of course, the trouble is not in the inches, but in the utter inability of this hilly and temperate region to cope with even tiny amounts of snow.

A general dearth of plows and sanders means that only main roads get treated at all. The state Department of Transportation doesn't use salt because it's more corrosive than the magnesium chloride and calcium chloride deicers it uses. The department insists those work just as well - a claim that transplants from New England and the Midwest have been known to dispute.

The State Patrol said there were 287 collisions and 166 disabled vehicles reported on interstates or state routes in Pierce, Thurston and Lewis counties, south of Seattle, from the middle of Monday night to noon Tuesday. In King County, where Seattle is, the State Patrol received 653 calls for assistance, including 242 crashes. Most were fender-benders, but one 60-year-old man who got out of his car following a crash on State Route 509 lost his legs after being hit by another vehicle that lost control, the State Patrol said.

State Transportation Secretary Doug MacDonald said the snow surprised his staff by falling in lower elevations than expected.

"We put the deicer down in the elevations over 500 feet and took a 'wait-and-see' in the other areas," he said. "That seemed a rational decision. ... The consequence was, the heaviest snowfall fell in places where we hadn't expected it to be and it fell at the worst possible time."

And contrary to what frustrated drivers may have thought, state equipment was out there trying to deal with the situation, he said. Some 700 DOT workers were working 12-hour shifts in Western Washington, using 250 pieces of equipment, from plows to blowers.

"The equipment out there loses ability to help because, like everyone else, it can't move," he said. "You may not have been able to see the sand truck, but it was a quarter of a mile behind you."

Parts of Whatcom, Skagit and Snohomish counties, north of Seattle, did get substantial snowfall Sunday and Monday - as much as 2 feet in the Cascade Range foothills. Thousands of residents lost power there and on the Olympic Peninsula. In the mountains, skiers and snowboarders rejoiced.

In Eastern Washington, the National Weather Service issued a watch for wind chills forecast to reach as low as minus-23 overnight Tuesday. Heavy snow advisories were issued for the northeast corner of the state, as well as the Palouse region of southeast Washington, which saw 1-3 inches of new snow by Tuesday morning.

At Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, where those trying to drop off holiday visitors encountered miserable backups, the National Weather Service recorded .08 inches of precipitation Monday night - bringing the November total to 15.26 inches. That's just .07 inches less than the wettest month on record in Seattle, December 1933.

Though Tuesday was clear, and just two days remained in November, it looked as though the record might fall. There's a winter storm watch in effect for Wednesday night.