Residents dig out from February snowstorm
March 1, 2011
By Warren Kagarise
Snowflakes, egged on by a relentless drumbeat from TV meteorologists, started to fall in Issaquah just as the afternoon commute started in earnest Feb. 22.
Unlike the pre-Thanksgiving snowstorm responsible for gridlock on roads and mass transit in Issaquah and throughout the region, planners said the late February snowfall did not cause quite so many headaches.
Credit residents for preparing for a strong snowstorm and opting to ride out the snowstorm at home rather than attempt a commute to the office. Some parents and commuters encountered a smoother ride because the Issaquah School District had already closed for midwinter break.
Issaquah, King County and state Department of Transportation crews toiled around the clock from Feb. 22-24 to clear streets, and to dump sand and apply de-icing fluid to roadways.
Bret Heath, city Public Works Operations and emergency management director, said although snowfall started earlier than planners had anticipated, the conditions did not pose a problem for road crews.
“I think the timing of the snow helped out there, and we didn’t have everybody trying to get home in very heavy snowfall during the afternoon commute,” he said.
Though Issaquah police officers and road crews encountered abandoned vehicles near steep slopes, the impromptu parking lots did not compare to the vehicles abandoned by the dozen amid the November snowstorm.
Problems and playtime
Snow blanketed Tiger Mountain, and prompted the Department of Transportation and Washington State Patrol to close state Route 18 near Issaquah during the Feb. 22 afternoon commute after numerous crashes snarled traffic.
Issaquah-area residents dug out from about 2 to 6 inches after the snowfall stopped. Then, the mercury dipped into the teens and 20s — bitterly cold temperatures — in the days after the storm. Crews mobilized to treat icy roads.
“It’s been kind of a roller coaster, because it seems that over the past couple of weeks, especially in February, we would have a few good, warm days and then it would get cold for a little bit, and then it would get warm and then it would get cold,” National Weather Service meteorologist Johnny Burg said. “That kind of throws people off.”
The late-February snowstorm surprised some people, but planners said the timing is not unusual.
“We can get snow in February here in Western Washington,” Burg said. “Winter is still here, and the equinox is not until March 20.”
Issaquah Highlands resident and Minnesota transplant Wendy White decided to work from home the day meteorologists forecast the storm to start. Then, after the snowstorm coated the highlands, she helped her 12-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son prep for sledding.
“They sure were excited to go out and play in it,” White said. “When you get your kids bundled up, it really brings back a lot of memories of being a kid — of being so excited to put the snow pants on and tuck them into snow boots and figuring out how to cover everything up, you can get out there and really play in that snow.”
Pacific Northwest state of mind
Planners said residents seemed to be better prepared late last month than during the November snowstorm — although snow in the forecast tends to set nerves on edge in the Puget Sound region.
Newcastle humorist Pat Detmer said the unease stems from the mountainous Pacific Northwest terrain and inhabitants accustomed to mild winters.
“I lived most of my young life on the plains of Northern Illinois, where vehicles were large and hills were small, and if we ended up in a ditch, we knew that somebody’s dad could pull us out with a tractor,” she recalled. “Here in the Seattle area, the hills are big and the cars are small and hardly anybody’s dad has a tractor. Back in Illinois, there was also something known as snow removal equipment, lots of it — large, diesel-guzzling machines at the ready after about Oct. 15. And they had huge stockpiles of salt, the kind that could eat out the undercarriage of your vehicle faster than table salt can eat through a banana slug.”
Such conditions help Midwesterners gird for harsh winters.
“But then it snowed there all the time, so of course they were prepared for it,” Detmer continued. “When you live in it, you learn to drive in it.”
Survey: Drivers feel comfortable in snow
Surprise — not all Evergreen State drivers react to snowstorms like the First Snowflake Freakout Lady in the droll PEMCO Insurance spot.
The insurer polled Washington drivers and discovered 58 percent of respondents feel comfortable driving in the snow, and another 58 percent of respondents claimed to be safer than other drivers in snowy conditions.
Only 16 percent of the 606 respondents in the survey admitted to significant concern behind the wheel in snowy conditions.
PEMCO released the survey results Feb. 23, as meteorologists predicted a drubbing for the Puget Sound region from a significant snowstorm.
“We were surprised so many Washington drivers feel comfortable driving in the snow,” PEMCO spokesman Jon Osterberg said. “We assumed lots of Western Washington drivers would relate to First Snowflake Freakout Lady, but apparently they’re as comfortable in the snow as their Eastern Washington neighbors. Go figure.”
First Snowflake Freakout Lady tends to abandon a four-wheel drive vehicle at the slightest hint of snow and carries a superfluous array of emergency preparedness tools, such as tire chains, flares and bushels of sand.
In survey responses, 77 percent of men and 45 percent of women said they feel comfortable driving in the snow.
PEMCO commissioned the independent survey to ask Washington drivers several questions about driving habits and attitudes about Northwest issues.
Snowstorm causes blood supply to drop
Puget Sound Blood Center leaders said the regional blood supply in the region could reach critical levels in many blood groups, due to missed donations stemming from the recent snowstorm.
The nonprofit organization encouraged Western Washington residents to donate as soon as possible in order to maintain the blood supply.
People can stop by 11 donor centers to donate. Call 1-800-398-7888 toll free or go to the blood center’s website, www.psbc.org, to schedule appointments. The center encourages appointments, but welcomes walk-in donors, too.
Puget Sound Blood Center lost more than 1,000 donations due to people unable to donate as a result of the inclement weather.
In addition, donations center across the region continue to operate at about 50 percent of capacity. Some blood drives had to be canceled due to the weather.
The center requires more than 900 donor registrations each day in order to maintain the operational blood supply in the region.
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.