Snow wimps: Seattle is shut down by first real snow of the season
Color Seattle clueless. The city has always marched unarmed into its infrequent battles with snow, and Wednesday's snowstorm was no exception.
It is a city of formidable hills and politically correct small cars, many of which spent the morning sliding ineffectually around places such as Queen Anne Hill and Capitol Hill. Even some Metro buses, as this Seattle Times video attests, were stuck revving their engines and spinning their wheels.
Across Washington, 736 traffic collisions were reported over the 24 hours since the heaviest snow began -- 120 of them in the areas south of Seattle, near the state Capitol in Olympia, where the heaviest snowfall was reported.
"You can see we're just getting hammered with crashes, and the reason why is folks, number one, are going too fast for conditions, and they're just not able to maintain control of their vehicles, and there's lots of little sports cars and things that really have no business being out in this kind of weather," Guy Gill, spokesman for Washington State Troopers in Pierce and Thurston counties, told the Los Angeles Times.
"Those are the ones we're towing out of the ditch."
Nor was air travel any better: More than 70 flights were canceled out of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
The snowstorm had been forecast to be the worst to hit the Puget Sound region in 30 years, an ominous warning that scared easily scareable Seattleites. As a result -- as is usually the case here when cold weather hits -- the city collectively declared a snow day and gave up most thoughts of going to work.
With nearly all state agencies closed -- not to mention many clinics, the zoo and every single school district in western Washington save one -- downtown Seattle's high-rises turned into ghost towns. Side streets were quickly converted from thoroughfares to sledding ramps, and corner coffee shops started filling up.
Seattle's King-5 television showed an image of a young man in saggy jeans and a baseball cap sliding face-first on a trash bag down Queen Anne Hill, then neatly folding up the bag and continuing on his way.
City officials, mindful that prior mayors' heads have rolled at election time when past snowstorms paralyzed the city for too long, quickly opened an emergency operations center. Mayor Mike McGinn was checking in periodically there to oversee the fleet of snowplows that, combined with those of the state Department of Transportation, were keeping most of the city's major thoroughfares operating relatively smoothly.
As it happened, though, Snowmageddon the storm was not.
Seattle was seeing between 1 and 8 inches of snow by midday -- a long way from the 21.5 inches that fell in a single day in 1916. Olympia was closer, with 13 inches falling before 10 a.m., just a hair shy of a record. "And it continues to snow down there," National Weather Service meteorologist Brad Colman said in an interview.
The good news (or bad news, depending on whether one falls into the sledding/coffee/good book or the commuting/just get me out of here camp) is that the snow was already tapering off by midday.
"We wouldn't be surprised to see some snow off and on through the early evening," Colman said. "But certainly the heaviest part is drawing to a close."
-- Kim Murphy in Seattle
Photo: Seattle residents woke up to a heavy snowfall, and most went quickly back to sleep. Credit: Elaine Thompson / Associated Press