Deadly storm grips Northwest in ice, snow

By Manuel Valdes

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Jan. 19 2012 2:33 p.m. MST

Joe Greer snowboards down one of the bike jumps at Jackson Park as friend Cameron Harris looks on in Port Orchard, Wash. on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012.

Kitsap Sun, Meegan M. Reid, Associated Press

SEATTLE — A monster Pacific Northwest storm coated the Seattle area in a thick layer of ice Thursday and brought much of the state to a standstill, sending hundreds of cars spinning out of control, temporarily shutting down the airport and knocking down so many trees that members of the Washington State Patrol brought chain saws to work.

Oregon experienced torrential rain that swept away a car from a grocery store parking lot, killing a 1-year-old boy and leaving his mother missing and feared dead. East of a Seattle, a man was killed by a falling tree.

The snow, ice and heavy rains continued wreak havoc in the region a day after the system brought a huge snowfall to parts of Washington state. The storm also raised worries that flooding could become a broader concern for days to come.

"It's like a storm in slow motion that keeps happening again and again," said Puget Sound Energy spokesman Roger Thompson.

Freezing rain and ice pellets caused numerous accidents in the Seattle area, where drivers are mostly inexperienced with driving in snow or ice. The last widespread freezing rain in Seattle was in December 1996, said meteorologist Jeff Michalski at the Weather Service. On the icy interstate north of Seattle, a transportation department worker responding to an accident was injured in crash. The 36-year-old man was taken to a Seattle hospital and listed in satisfactory condition.

The National Weather Service used the Emergency Alert System to break into Thursday morning broadcasts with an ice storm warning until noon for the Seattle area and southwest Washington, a warning that was extended into the early afternoon. Among the concerns were widespread power outages and the threat that structures could collapse under the weight of ice.

The state Transportation Department closed one highway because of falling trees that also took out power lines, and about 200,000 were without power in the greater Seattle area Thursday, while Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire declared a state of emergency, authorizing the use of National Guard troops if necessary.

Ice closed Sea-Tac Airport completely in the early morning before one runway was reopened. Lines hundreds of people long snaked around nearly every ticket counter at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, with many passengers on their cell phones as they tried furiously to rebook their flights. Reader-boards showed the vast majority of flights canceled or delayed.

Cabbies struggled to get people at the airport and safely to their homes or hotels. Chris Van Dyk of Yellow Cab said "it's like servicing Dante's part of hell. It's an ice cube, it's just unreal."

Van Dyk said drivers tried to get people as close as they could to their destinations, but when they entered the side streets they kept getting stuck.

Braving the icy Queen Anne hill in Seattle, commercial truck driver Darrin Sjostrand was loading his Toyota Prius to drive his wife to the airport. He was giving himself an extra hour.

"It was supposed to warm up," he said. "Ice is kind of the great equalizer. It doesn't matter if you have a four-wheel drive, you're going to slide."

Authorities also worried about flooding in the coming days as temperatures warm up. Rain was forecast throughout the weekend.

"It's a very dangerous situation," with a major impact on roads, said Brad Colman, the meteorologist in charge of the Weather Service office in Seattle. "We're expecting a significant impact on power."

Oregon didn't receive the snowfall that Washington did — but got plenty of rain. Rising water from heavy rains swept a car carrying four people into an overflowing creek in Albany. Two people escaped but one child's body was recovered and authorities said the boy's mother was missing in the creek in the Willamette Valley community of Albany and feared dead.

"The water just got high so fast," said fire department spokeswoman Wanda Omdahl. "It's a big tragedy."

Get The Deseret News Everywhere

Subscribe

Mobile

RSS