Weather Blog

A look back on the winter storm of the century (so far)

A look back on the winter storm of the century (so far)
SEATTLE -- It was a storm for the ages. Five of them, in fact.

In late December, 2008, the Pacific Northwest was plunged into an icy grip that lasted two weeks, bringing the coldest temperatures the region had seen in nearly 20 years, the greatest prolonged snow in a generation, and the first White Christmas to Seattle since 1990.

The prolonged snow as deep as 12-24" in many spots, combined with icy temperatures in teens and single digits wreaked havoc with cities as they struggled to clear the deep snow and thick ice that coated the region.

While road crews worked 24/7 to try and keep up with Mother Nature, many residents were trapped in their homes for several days, unable to navigate the snow covered roads in their neighborhood.

Heavy snows the weekend before Christmas forced the cancellation of all Alaska and Horizon flights, as well as many others at Sea-Tac Airport, leaving hundreds of passengers stranded and turned many areas of the airport into an impromptu hotel. Travelers using Amtrak and Greyhound found similar fates as service was canceled there too.

Local garbage pickup was suspended for three weeks, leaving mountains of garbage piling up in garages and curbsides. Package delivery services were brought to a standstill at the height of the Christmas rush, and many packages never did make it to their destination in time for Christmas.

There were no weather-related fatalities, but there was one very harrowing moment for several dozen people when two charter buses collided while nosing down an icy Seattle hill, sending both of them crashing through a metal railing above the freeway.

One bus skidded to a stop with its front end and wheels dangling 30 feet above the freeway below as the passengers screamed in terror. All made it out safely.

Here is a recap of all the events of those two weeks, so you can tell your kids and grandkids about the great snow of aught-eight. For each date, I've attached a video of a time lapse animation, courtesy of the University of Washington Atmospheric Sciences Department, so you can see the day play out.

Friday, Dec. 12:

Mother Nature kicked off the event with a storm that was originally forecast to bring snow, but instead brought strong, gusty winds to the area. Gusts were as high as 45-50 mph across the Puget Sound area, although Destruction Island, off the north coast of Washington, reported a gust of 95 mph, while Forks had a gust to 69 mph. Power was knocked out to about 10,000 people.

News Stories:

Gusty winds kick off week of weather headlines

Saturday, Dec. 13:

The first snowfall of the season fell in the late evening and overnight, and brought about 2-5" from Snohomish County north to the border, but 1-2" for most other areas.

Daily Snowfall Totals Across the Region for Dec. 13

Time Lapse Video:

News Stories:

Waking to a winter wonderland

Sunday, Dec. 14

The arctic air began to get its grip in earnest on the 14th, causing icy roads for the morning and closing the West Seattle Bridge for three hours when 20 cars spun out. The high wound only reach 32.

Daily Snowfall Totals Across the Region for Dec. 14

Daily high/low temperatures for Dec. 14

Time Lapse Video:

News Stories:

Waking to a winter wonderland

Monday, Dec. 15

Snow that fell across the region over the weekend turned to ice on many area roads Monday morning as arctic are moved into Western Washington.

The low temperature at Sea-Tac Airport dropped to 19 degrees at 4 a.m. Monday, breaking the old record of 20 for the date set in 1964, and Hoquiam tied its record low of 25, set in 1967. Arlington dropped to 12, while many others were in the upper teens to low 20s.

Meanwhile, up in Bellingham, they could apply for Minnesota residency as the wind gusted for 40 mph or greater for 25 consecutive hours, combined with temperatures in the teens.

Daily Snowfall Totals Across the Region for Dec. 15

Daily high/low temperatures for Dec. 15.

Time Lapse Video:

News Stories:

Icy roads greet morning commuters as frigid weather sets in

Round 1 of a 5-round bout with arctic temperatures?

Tuesday, Dec. 16

A calm, but snow free day.

Daily Snowfall Totals Across the Region for Dec. 16

Daily high/low temperatures for Dec. 16.

Time Lapse Video:

Wednesday, Dec. 17

In a stark reminder of how much the weather can vary over a short distance in the Pacific Northwest, some areas just north of the Everett metro area were buried under 4-12" inches of snow Wednesday, bringing some snow depths up over 20" for Skagit County.

Meanwhile, 60 miles to the south, nary a snowflake to be found.

That was the case just 30 miles to the south too until a vigorous Convergence Zone formed in Southern Snohomish and northern King County, bringing a heavy snow between Everett and Shoreline in the heart of the evening commute. Traffic instantly slowed to a crawl on I-5 and I-405 in the north end as snow began to stick to the roadways. Side streets throughout Bothell were said to be filled with spinouts.

Several buses were seen stuck on icy roadways across the Puget Sound area during the commute. The buses were trapped on the slick pavements, helpless and immobile until an oversized tow truck came by and gave them a push.

The Seattle area missed out on the snow due to the Olympic Mountains blocking most of the moisture. They wouldn't miss out on the snow for much longer.

Daily high/low temperatures for Dec. 17.

Daily Snowfall Totals Across the Region for Dec. 17

Time Lapse Video:

News Stories:

Heavy snow falls across parts of Washington

Some skating on this ice; others skating by for now

Thursday, Dec. 18:

Snow spread into the Seattle metro area Thursday morning, arriving with a thunderous boom of thundersnow. A layer of snow quickly coated area freeways, turning 520 into a parking lot. So much so, that drivers abandoned their vehicles on the roadway and tried to walk back, while others tried driving the wrong way on the shoulders to get out of the mess.

State troopers and local law enforcement officers responded to spinouts and crashes all day Thursday as drivers encountered compact snow and ice in areas that saw snowfall Wednesday, and new snow showers were catching many drivers off guard.

On I-405, I-5 and I-90 in King County, traffic was snarled in many areas. DOT officials have plow and de-icer crews out, but the snow was coming down faster than it could be cleared earlier in the day.

Throughout the region, side streets and hills continued to pose a problem for drivers, with a steady stream of collisions being reported. Those who decided to leave their cars at home and take public transportation were only a little better off, as many buses could not reach all roads on the schedule routes, and some were involved in accidents.

Daily high/low temperatures for Dec. 18.

Daily Snowfall Totals Across the Region for Dec. 18

Time Lapse Video:

Friday, Dec. 19:

Friday was the calm before the next storm, giving the region one day to clean up from the earlier snow. However, most of that work went for naught as several more inches of snow were on the way.

Daily high/low temperatures for Dec. 19.

Daily Snowfall Totals Across the Region for Dec. 19

Time Lapse Video:

News Stories:

Weekend storm looms with wind, snow

Saturday, Dec. 20

The day began with some of the coldest temperatures recorded in ages around here. Arlington dropped to -6, while Lake Stevens recorded a low of -2 and Sedro-Woolley plunged to -1. Olympia dropped to 7 and single digits were common in other areas too.

Later that night, arguably the worst of the storms came roaring through. Blizzard conditions were reported across the foothills and Cascades, as winds gusted in the foothills to 50 mph in some spots, while Enumclaw reported a gust to 75 mph and Snoqualmie reached 61 mph. In the Cascades, Snoqualmie Pass was closed due to blizzard conditions.

In the lowlands, it was a combination of heavy snow and freezing rain on top of all the snow that was still around from before.

As much as 4-8 inches of new snow fell across the Puget Sound lowlands, with the Kitsap Peninsula reporting new snow of 10-12". Along the coast, freezing rain was also becoming a problem as warmer air moved in. A spotter in Ocean Shores reported ice coatings as thick as 1/4" to 1/2".

Daily high/low temperatures for Dec. 20.

Daily Snowfall Totals Across the Region for Dec. 20

Time Lapse Video:

News Stories:

Temperatures plunge below zero in some spots

Fierce winds, snow, freezing rain blast through region

Charter bus crashes, dangles over I-5

Freezing rain adds to winter storm woes

Sunday, Dec. 21:

Thousands of people gave up on their travel plans and abandoned Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in droves on Sunday as one airline after another cancelled flights amid the ongoing winter storm.

Thousands of others were stranded at the airport, with no hotel accommodations available and with concessions running low on food and supplies.

Meanwhile, the snow just kept coming down. Another 3-8" of new snow fell Sunday on top of the mammoth amounts Saturday.

Daily high/low temperatures for Dec. 21.

Daily Snowfall Totals Across the Region for Dec. 21

Time Lapse Video:

News Stories:

Travelers abandon Sea-Tac as flights canceled

Fresh warnings issued as snow becomes relentless

Monday, Dec. 22:

Mother Nature let off the gas a bit as the regionwide snows tapered off. We still had a new 1-2" in the North Sound due to a Convergence Zone, but while in the past 1-2" would send the area into a complete panic, now 1-2" was shrugged off as just flurries.

The lighter snow allowed airlines at Sea-Tac to start to recover, and other transit agencies were slowly resuming service as well.

By now, Morton, Washington had reported 40" of snow on the ground, while Index was at 35"; Olympia's outskirts were at 27", Duvall had 23" and Redmond had 16". But we weren't done yet...

Daily high/low temperatures for Dec. 22.

Daily Snowfall Totals Across the Region for Dec. 22

Time Lapse Video:

News Stories:

Mother Nature's snow machine gives it a rest

Tuesday, Dec. 23:

We'd say we were waving the white flag of surrender to Mother Nature, but it'd just blend into the background anyway.

The longest stretch of snow in several decades figures to extend a bit longer through Christmas Day now as another storm coming in Wednesday figures to add a few more inches to our already impressive snow totals.

Tuesday was thankfully calm and even a little above freezing to start and melt away a little bit of the snow.

Daily high/low temperatures for Dec. 23.

Daily Snowfall Totals Across the Region for Dec. 23

Time Lapse Video:

News Stories:

Mother Nature says Let It Snow (again)

Wednesday, Dec. 24:

Christmas Eve arrived with a little more snow in spots, but mostly people still figuring out how they were going to get to grandma's house, and how many gifts they had ordered or been sent from out the area would accompany them.

Daily high/low temperatures for Dec. 24.

Daily Snowfall Totals Across the Region for Dec. 24

Time Lapse Video:

News Stories:

Another day, another round of snow

Rain makes long, lost appearance in Seattle.

Thursday, Dec. 25:

For the first time since 1990, Seattle had an official White Christmas, defined as 1" of snow on the ground or more. In fact, Seattle had 4" at Sea-Tac Airport, making it tied for the snowiest Christmas at the airport with 1965. The greatest snow totals were reported in Downtown Seattle in 1861 (12") and 1871 (6").

And just to add to it, a little more snow fell during the day in some areas. A Puget Sound Convergence Zone set up shop in the North Puget Sound area Christmas Day morning, then slid down through King County before beginning to fizzle out in the afternoon.

Most areas reported about 2-4" of new snow on top of the snowpack still around from several snow events through the past two weeks.

This ended up being the final, region-wide snow event, as we dried out toward the weekend. There were still a few random snow showers, but nothing widespread and temperatures warmed a touch to turn to begin the great thaw.

Daily high/low temperatures for Dec. 25.

Daily Snowfall Totals Across the Region for Dec. 25

Time Lapse Video:

News Stories:

Dreams of a White Christmas finally come true

Other Resources

The Washington State Climatology department has also put together a recap of the event, with additional charts and notes.

Here are several links to more information and tidbits about the storm from Scott's weather blog: