Deadly storm grips Northwest in ice, snow

By Manuel Valdes

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Jan. 19 2012 11:00 p.m. MST

Sledders, skiers, snowboarders and pedestrians take over a snow-covered street in the Queen Anne neighborhood of Seattle Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012. As snow started falling on Seattle Wednesday morning, the National Weather Service scaled back the amount expected in western Washington but said it would still be a significant event. The total in the city would likely be 3 to 6 inches, meteorologist Dustin Guy says. More is likely in southwest Washington, 4 to 8 inches, while less is expected in the northwest interior, 1 to 2 inches.

Elaine Thompson, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

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 mother and her 1-year-old son. East of Seattle, a man was killed by a falling tree as he was backing an all-terrain vehicle out of a backyard shed, authorities said.

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 in days to come.

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

Amtrak suspended train service Thursday between Seattle and Portland, Ore. Officials in Spokane declared a snow emergency, banning parking along arterials and bus routes beginning Thursday evening. The City of Seattle asked people to get home before dark if possible, fearing even worse icing conditions by nightfall. And authorities told pedestrians to be extra careful on sidewalks and to look out for "falling ice from trees, buildings and power lines."

Freezing rain and ice pellets caused numerous accidents in the Seattle area, where drivers are mostly inexperienced with driving in snow or ice. The State Patrol said it had responded to about 2,300 accidents in a 24-hour period ending at 9 a.m. Thursday, roughly quadruple the average number.

The last widespread freezing rain in Seattle was in December 1996, said National Weather Service meteorologist Jeff Michalski.

The weather service used the Emergency Alert System to break into Thursday morning broadcasts with an ice storm warning for the Seattle area and southwest Washington.

The state Transportation Department closed one highway because of falling trees that also took out power lines, and the Seattle Times reported that about 250,000 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 cellphones as they tried furiously to rebook their flights. Reader boards showed the vast majority of flights canceled or delayed.

Cabbies struggled to get people from 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.

"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," said Brad Colman, the meteorologist in charge of the weather service office in Seattle.

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