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Snowed In

January 19, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

Our spruce tree

I don’t want to make too big a deal about the weather here this week. It’s not like we’ve gotten all that much snow, though other parts of western Washington did. And it’s not like getting snow is all that unusual, though some winters we don’t get any. (It’s typical when the colder winter storms move through that temperatures hover right at the rain/snow line, bringing snow to higher elevations or to areas a little outside Seattle that lack the dual moderating influences of Puget Sound and Lake Washington, with just traces of snow falling within Seattle.) But I have to say, it’s unusual to have six consecutive days of snow. And today’s sleet/ice/snow caught the forecasters by surprise.

I should explain or remind readers that snow tends to stop traffic in Seattle, especially when it turns to ice, because we’re a city of hills but not a city of plows. When I first moved here, roads just didn’t get plowed. Now the major roads do. But when snow is followed by falling temperatures and ice, the city comes to a standstill.

I wrote on Sunday about the early stages of this unexpected weather. On Saturday, it snowed briefly. I got in the car, dashed down to the local commercial neighborhood, and took care of some errands, but the snow had stopped before I got home. Sunday brought big snow in some areas, 3-4 inches here. Monday was cooler. Not too bad a day. No significant accumulations. The snow on the roads was packed hard and we kept the cars in. We walked down to the commercial neighborhood for lunch and to buy provisions. (Monday was a holiday, so getting to work wasn’t an issue.)

Tuesday was supposed to be the calm before the big storm on Wednesday. I drove to school, with temperatures in the high 30s. To my surprise, it was precipitating when I arrived, a sleety snow. By noon it was flat out snowing, and did so for a couple of hours. Very light, and with the temperatures still well above freezing, nothing stuck. From late afternoon through the evening, there was lots of melting. The drive home was easy, and at home I could hear melting water pouring through the downspouts.

The Wednesday storm (yesterday) was initially predicted, days ago, to be part of a big warm front with early snow followed by heavy rain and melting. Then it appeared that the storm would come through farther south, bringing very heavy snow here, on the order of a foot. By Tuesday night, the prediction was downgraded to 2-5 inches here, and that turned out to be about right. The big issue was whether I should get up early and walk in to school for class. Or could I drive? Or would school shut down, something it never used to do, but has in recent years in order to keep thousands of commuters off the roads? By 10:20 PM Tuesday there was no closure announcement, so I went to bed ready to get up early. But I awoke around 12:45 AM, reached for my iPad, and discovered I had missed the closure announcement, which had come through around 10:45 PM. No school. I shut the alarm.

The snow didn’t start yesterday until 4:00 AM, and never fell heavily here in Seattle, but didn’t stop until early afternoon, leaving another 3-4 inches on the ground. As predicted, snow was much heavier to the south, as much as 12-15 inches over southwest Washington. And still farther south, in Oregon, the warm front we were supposed to get had arrived, with temperatures of 50 degrees. An icy precipitation continued to fall later in the day, but nothing significant. Nonetheless, at 8:50 last night, the university announced a closure for today too. Today was supposed to be a transitional day, cold but with little precipitation, with warm air and rain finally arriving tomorrow.

Well, that didn’t happen. As local weather expert Cliff Mass explained this morning, everyone got the prediction wrong. What we got instead was an ice storm. Real bad to the south, where there are power outages. Not too bad here. But a complete surprise based on last night’s outlook. Still, as of this morning, the sleet was to stop by 1:00 PM this afternoon. Instead, it turned to snow, which is still falling. Gail and I walked down to the stores again a couple of hours ago, got some lunch, bought some food. It wasn’t too bad. Packed snow on the roads, crunchy snow where no one had driven or walked. The snow still falling is light.

We’re still supposed to get warmer weather starting tomorrow. Days of it, 40s and rain. This will all be gone quickly. The big question is whether the roads will be safe in the morning, before the warming and rain do their work. In particular, will the university close again? If it doesn’t, will anyone besides me show up to my class? It’s a disaster either way — missing yet another class, or holding a class to which few people come. With the Monday holiday, this whole week is turning into a disaster, making a mess of the start of the term.

I took the photo at the top with my iPhone on our return from this afternoon’s outing. Just for the heck of it, I offer a contrast below, a shot of Sankaty Head lighthouse in Nantucket taken last September as we cycled back from ‘Sconset to Wauwinet. I would say I’d rather be there, but, you know, it’s actually quite lovely here.

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