Issaquah on ice: Snowstorm snarls traffic, prompts school closures

November 30, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

Ryder Marin, 9, of Issaquah, starts to spill after becoming airborne on the Issaquah Community Center hillside Nov. 23. ‘All the snow comes straight up in my face and I can’t see very well,’ he said. By Tim Pfarr

The nightmare occurred long before Christmas — and before Thanksgiving.

Issaquah and the Puget Sound region slid to a halt during a fall snowstorm Nov. 22. The storm snarled commutes for Issaquah residents and prompted road crews to toil through Thanksgiving to clear streets. The poor conditions interrupted the regional transit system and left riders huddled in bus shelters. The fallout sent shoppers scrambling to stores for emergency supplies and Thanksgiving staples.

The mercury dipped into the teens and 20s — record cold temperatures — in the days after the storm and turned roads icy.

“People were very understanding of the situation,” Issaquah Police Patrol Cmdr. Scott Behrbaum said. “I think a lot of people were just trying to get home Monday night.”

Some motorists abandoned vehicles and turned road shoulders along Highlands Drive Northeast, Newport Way Northwest and Southeast Black Nugget Road into impromptu parking lots. Police impounded more than 30 vehicles in travel lanes as conditions deteriorated Nov. 22.

Bret Heath, city Public Works Operations and emergency management director, said the storm reminded drivers to prepare for poor road conditions.

“If you’re going to travel, you need to be prepared for it,” he said. “Going out without being prepared to travel in winter weather or not having the skills to travel in winter weather just causes problems for everybody on the road.”

Issaquah School District administrators released students early Nov. 22 in order to allow more time for elementary school bus routes later in the day. Traffic and poor road conditions caused students on 17 school buses to remain stuck on roadways at 5:30 p.m. — long after the afternoon routes usually conclude.

The district later canceled classes through the Thanksgiving holiday. Students returned to school Nov. 29.

The road home

City Public Works Operations workers chain up a city snowplow at the municipal maintenance facility as snow starts to fall Nov. 22 in Issaquah. By Greg Farrar

The snowflakes started to fall Nov. 22 as Diana Boyd sat inside a Seattle office.

The bus commuter left the office early to catch a King County Metro Transit bus home to the Klahanie area.

“I got out of there at about 3:30, and the roads in Seattle were looking OK,” she said. “By the time the bus finally got to Issaquah, it was a mess.”

Boyd and about 50 other passengers lingered at the Issaquah Transit Center for about 60 minutes in the storm.

“I was probably about five minutes away from saying, ‘Bag it, I’m going to go to a hotel,’” she said.

Then, a bus stopped near the transit center shelter.

“I’m not even sure if this was a regularly scheduled shuttle,” she said. “The driver just said, ‘Get on, we’re going to the highlands.’”

Riders jammed inside the bus, like sardines, for the ponderous trip to the Issaquah Highlands Park & Ride — and then on to home.

“The roads got sanded a lot earlier, so it really made getting around up here a lot easier,” Boyd said.

City and King County Road Services Division crews operated around the clock and on Thanksgiving to combat ice and snow.

The storm turned Issaquah-Hobart Road Southeast treacherous and caused traffic to back up onto Front Street North in downtown Issaquah.

Mike Barer spent hours on a slow trip from the Crossroads area in Bellevue to Maple Valley. Barer inched along Issaquah-Hobart Road Southeast past a stalled tractor-trailer and snowplow, plus numerous cars stuck in roadside ditches.

A car also crashed through a fence and almost nailed a house along Front Street South.

“We barely were able to safely pass the carnage on the street and turn onto Cedar Grove” Road Southeast, Barer said.

Winter wonderland — and workload

The snowstorm resulted in a long Thanksgiving holiday for students and others.

Issaquah resident Jessica Towns and stepdaughter Rosaline Camara, 9, headed to a hill near the Issaquah Community Center for some sledding Nov. 23. Towns opted not to brave the slick hillside on a plastic sled.

“I decided not to go sledding as not to break my tailbone,” she said.

Clark Elementary School student Ryder Marin, 9, trudged through the snow to the same hill — and caught impressive air on a careening trip to the bottom.

“All the snow comes straight up in my face and I can’t see very well,” he said.

The hazardous road conditions prompted officials to close the community center and the Issaquah Library, plus Julius Boehm Pool, the day after the storm.

The icy roads and transit delays did not keep everyone from a trip to the office.

Justin Bonz hopped a Metro Transit bus from home in downtown Seattle to the Microsoft campus in Issaquah after a 90-minute wait.

Bonz opted spend to the night at Motel 6 on Nov. 23 to arrive at the office on time the following morning. The support analyst said the “$50 for a cheap motel gives me the peace of mind to know I can get to work safe.

“I don’t intend on missing any work and I just started this job less than three weeks ago,” he continued. “So, I am determined to get to work on time.”

Issaquah planners and residents said such preparation is important for inclement conditions.

Issaquah Highlands resident Lindsey Walsh, a recent California transplant, readied for the snowstorm like a Pacific Northwest native.

“We got prepared,” she said. “I had a snow shovel. I had an ice scraper. I had gloves. I had everything I needed.”

Carbon monoxide poisoning risk rises

Temperatures in the Issaquah area dipped into the teens and 20s last week — and a harsh winter forecast could mean more intense cold in the months ahead.

The risk of injury or death from carbon monoxide poisoning increases as the temperature falls. Carbon monoxide poisoning can strike suddenly and without warning.

In some cases, physical symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning may include severe headache, nausea and vomiting, and lethargy and fatigue. Head outside for fresh air immediately and call for medical help from a mobile phone or a neighbor’s home if carbon monoxide poisoning occurs.

State and local public health officials urge residents to take precautions to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Avoid combustion “space heaters” without exhaust vents.
  • Do not cook or heat with charcoal grills inside the home.
  • Gas ovens should not be used as indoor heat sources, even for a short time.
  • During a power outage or at other times, do not operate fuel-powered machinery — such as a generator — indoors, including inside a garage. Keep running generators away from open windows or vents.
  • Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas. The substance cannot be seen or smelled — but can kill a person in minutes.

“The importance of preventing carbon monoxide poisoning is too often shown with the sad news of people getting sick and even dying,” state Secretary of Health Mary Selecky said in a statement.

Bounce back from fender benders

Slick roads mean fender benders — or worse.

The state Office of the Insurance Commissioner offers information for unlucky motorists to handle insurance companies after a collision.

Unless a driver signed a contract with his or her insurer to take a damaged vehicle to a specified shop, he or she can choose a location for repair. The shop still needs to work with the insurer to agree on a price. If not, and the shop still repairs the vehicle, the owner might be responsible for the remaining amount.

Find more tips about insurance issues in the aftermath of a snow- or ice related accident at the agency website. If residents need questions answered about insurers — or to report insurance problems — call 800-562-6900 or e-mail

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or Reporters Laura Geggel and Tim Pfarr contributed to this report. Comment at

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2 Responses to “Issaquah on ice: Snowstorm snarls traffic, prompts school closures”

  1. Residents dig out from February snowstorm : The Issaquah Press – News, Sports, Classifieds in Issaquah, WA on March 1st, 2011 6:10 pm

    […] the pre-Thanksgiving snowstorm responsible for gridlock on roads and mass transit in Issaquah and throughout the region, planners […]

  2. Issaquah tragedies, triumphs define a tumultuous year : The Issaquah Press – News, Sports, Classifieds and More in Issaquah, WA on June 28th, 2011 1:09 pm

    […] a toastier-than-usual winter to a condensed summer to a pre-Thanksgiving snowstorm, confusing weather left Western Washington residents unsure about whether to reach for the galoshes […]

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