Widespread snowstorm wallops Washington; high winds, rain hit Oregon

  • Article by: RACHEL LA CORTE , Associated Press
  • Updated: January 19, 2012 - 5:37 AM
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Charles Hetrick wore a kilt as he played with "Zeus," his Chow-German Shepherd mix, in the snow Wednesday in Tacoma, Wash.

Photo: Ted S. Warren, Associated Press

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OLYMPIA, Wash. - People in the Pacific Northwest faced difficult travel conditions and worries about flood waters Thursday after a windy winter storm dropped more than a foot of snow in some places, causing school closures, knocking out power to thousands and leaving hundreds of accidents in its wake.

Rising water from heavy rains swept a car carrying at least two people into an overflowing creek in the Willamette Valley community of Albany, Ore. The two people escaped and authorities searched for others who might have been in the car, fire officials said. Early reports indicated that a child was missing but fire officials said there were too many conflicting accounts be sure. A search was suspended until daylight.

The National Weather Service issued flood warnings for several Oregon rivers and several roads were closed because of flooding in Salem.

Nearly a foot of new snow fell in Olympia, Wash., where 11 inches was measured at the airport Wednesday. The record is 14.2 inches on Jan. 24, 1972.

Lewis County, south of Olympia, had the highest snowfall amounts, ranging from 12 to 17 inches.

"It's unusual to get this much snow for western Washington," said Dennis D'Amico, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Seattle.

Emergency management officials warned that an icy Thursday morning commute was the next likely challenge for western Washington drivers.

Sub-freezing temperatures were the rule late Wednesday. Light freezing drizzle fell in Seattle and Tacoma.

Thursday's forecast was for a mix of snow and rain, and the Weather Service warned that urban and small stream flooding was possible Friday, when another storm was expected to hit the state. Rain and temperatures in the 40s would start melting snow on the ground.

Forecasters warned that heavy rain combined with snow melt could lead to some Washington river flooding, especially in the Chehalis River Basin, an area that has been hit by significant floods in recent years.

Officials in Lewis County said they didn't yet have concerns about flooding on the Chehalis River, but were monitoring the amount of snow they receive.

More than 40,000 Western Washington electrical customers lost power at least temporarily late Wednesday, in many cases as icy, snow-laden tree limbs drooped or fell onto power lines. Many of the outages were quickly restored.

Washington residents had plenty of warning as snow showers started over the weekend.

Seattle and many other school districts canceled Wednesday classes in advance. Alaska Airlines announced late Tuesday that it canceled 38 flights into and out of Seattle and Portland, Ore.

Washington State University announced it was cancelling all classes Thursday at its Pullman campus in southeastern Washington, where more snow was expected. The University of Washington cancelled Thursday classes at three campuses, including Seattle.

Seattle schools were also closed again for Thursday, as were schools in Bellingham in northwest Washington, and in southeast Washington's Pasco, Kennewick and Richland.

As of Wednesday night, the Washington State Patrol had responded to 261 collisions in the preceding 21 hours, Trooper Guy Gill said. No fatalities were reported.

"I saw a guy in my rear mirror," Gill said earlier. "I saw headlights and taillights and headlights and taillights again as he spun around off the road."

In Oregon, high winds hammered parts of the coast and caused power outages that initially affected tens of thousands of customers, with reports of gusts as high as 113 mph. There were no immediate reports of serious damage.

At the Capitol in Washington state, it was business as usual Wednesday.

Some state employees drove into work, but others walked in, and at least one employee was seen cross-country skiing to the campus. The 60-day legislative session began Jan. 9.

In Tacoma, which had about 7 inches of snow for the morning rush hour, a kilt-clad, barelegged Charles Hetrick frolicked with his dog in a park.

"I've worn nothing but kilts for the last six years, so I didn't even think about it when I put it on this morning," Hetrick said.

In Seattle, a fleet of 30 plows, de-icing trucks and graders was deployed to remove snow from main city streets. It had stopped snowing in Seattle by Wednesday afternoon, but several inches of snow remained.

Hundreds of people careened down Queen Anne Hill, one of Seattle's steepest, on skis, sleds and laundry baskets — narrowly missing cars that crossed the intersection at the bottom.

Jake Munson, an 18-year-old student at the Art Institute of Seattle, joined two friends in sliding down on an air mattress covered with a clear plastic bag.

"I've done the whole tubing thing, but I had more fun doing this," he said. "It's way faster and riskier. There's fear — you don't want to run into a pole or something."

___

Associated Press writers Doug Esser and Gene Johnson in Seattle, Ted Warren in Tacoma, Wash., and Jonathan J. Cooper in Portland, Ore., contributed to this report.

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