Bengal tigers enjoy a romp through the recent snow at Cougar Mountain Zoo in Issaquah. Photo courtesy of Sasha Hendricks

Bengal tigers enjoy a romp through the recent snow at Cougar Mountain Zoo in Issaquah. Photo courtesy of Sasha Hendricks

One of the ‘snowiest’ months on record for King County

Citizens fled to stores to stock up on needed supplies; City staff worked to keep roads clear.

Shoppers flooded into the Redmond QFC Friday morning, and grocery stores around the region — compelled by a warning of more snowfall. Cars circled the lot looking for a place to park. And inside long lines of shoppers waited to check out.

Some shelves were empty at the QFC. Tomatoes, avocados and other produce were low on stock. Customers perused the bread aisle, picking from what remained of store selection.

The forecast called for even more snow on Feb. 8 than what fell on Feb. 3. A winter weather alert from the National Weather Service predicted snowfall over the weekend. And a warning from meteorologist and blogger Cliff Mass wasn’t to be taken lightly. “A Major Snowstorm Will Hit the Region Starting Late Friday,” the post was titled. He predicted the snow event to be the most extreme of our decade.

Even Gov. Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency on Feb. 8, as the Seattle region braced for snowfall, frozen streets and collisions.

“Everyone in our state needs to focus on preparing for the snow and staying safe. Weather forecasters predict this may be a storm unlike one we’ve seen in many years. I encourage everyone to stay off the roads if possible and plan ahead if you must travel,” Inslee said in his warning to the Puget-Sound cities.

Snow did come. In fact, this is one of the snowiest Februarys on record for King County, according to meteorologist Jeff Michalski with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. SeaTac was at 14.1 inches total, not taking into account any Monday snowfall. Weather forecasts were still up in the air for Tuesday.

All that winter weather left roads blanketed in snow. An accident Monday just after 2 p.m. on SR 18 near Issaquah lead to all lanes blocked after a semi truck hit a barrier and started a chain reaction involving other vehicles, said Washington State Patrol trooper Rick Johnson. One driver was transported with a leg injury, but will be OK, he added.

Power lines and branches, weighed down by heavy snow and ice, caused outages around the region. About 22,000 Seattle City Light customers were without electricity across the service territory Monday at 10 p.m., according to the company’s Twitter page. On Tuesday morning, the number dropped to 10,080 customers, with 140 outages remaining.

The Puget Sound Energy outage map showed Tuesday, at about 7 a.m., that there were 790 outages on the western side of the state, leaving more than 71,000 people without power. Over 250 of these outages were on the Eastside.

A partial roof collapse Tuesday afternoon, happened in Bellevue at a strip mall on 132nd Avenue Northeast, reported the Bellevue Fire Department. No injuries were reported. And rain and rising temperatures made for slushy streets in the city. Parts of Lakemont Boulevard were closed due to a downed tree on a power line. Areas of 132nd and 134th Avenue Northeast between Northeast 24th Street and 60th Avenue Northeast were also closed, according to the City of Bellevue.

But cities have been diligent about their snow response. On Mercer Island it began as the Friday-weather forecast began to converge, said Ross Freeman, communications manager for the city. Extra salt, liquid deicer and road sand were ordered beforehand, ensuring the city would have ample supply when they began their 24-7 shifts sanding and deicing main arterials.

In Snoqualmie, the same 24-7 schedule was used, said Joan Pliego. In the city, five plows worked to get out ahead of time to sand main arterials of state Route 202 and Snoqualmie Parkway. Other side streets were dealt with after. Plows have cleared out hills among the Snoqualmie Ridge area, to the extent possible.

“We are really asking people to keep cars out of streets if at all possible,” Pliego said. They asked that citizens also keep garage containers away from snow-plow paths.

No major accidents have been reported in the city since snowfall began over the weekend. A typical problem of abandoned cars on roadways simply wasn’t an issue, Pliego said. When people are in distress, struggling with a stuck vehicle, they should dial 911 to be connected with an officer right away, she said.

A challenge on Mercer Island, Freeman said, was filling road-clearing shifts. “If everybody is working overtime, basically at some point you start to run out of people,” he said. Legal constraints and physical exhaustion added limits to the number of shifts city employees could work.

Despite this, as of Monday morning, only two roads remained closed on the island. Southeast 53rd Place and portions of Southeast 72nd were still dangerous to commuters. But other hilly areas of Southeast 40th, Gallagher Hill Road were open. Mercer schools were closed Monday due to freezing temperatures and unsafe road conditions. Others school districts closed Monday were Bellevue, Issaquah, Lake Washington, Northshore and Snoqualmie Valley. There was no word yet on Tuesday classes.

At the Northshore Middle School, hot meals and grab-and-go lunches were served at noon Monday, even with school closure.

In Issaquah, Scott Wahl, manager of the Highlands Safeway opted to give his employees rides to work. His shelves ran low on bread, milk, bananas, lettuce, avocados. He joked by phone on Monday that “everybody must be going home and making guacamole.”

Despite tripling his order size on bananas, he still struggled to keep them in stock. Shipments coming from their main distribution center in Auburn, and other locations, were running 12 to 24 hours late.

To help his employees make it into work safely, on Feb. 3, when snow first fell this month, Wahl offered to drive his workers to the store. “I started telling people, ‘If you can’t make it to work and don’t want to try driving, I can come and get you,’” he said.

The store was busy and he needed employees to take care of customers, man the checkstands and refill the shelves. His employees didn’t want to call out, but some struggled to leave their driveways.

“They don’t want to miss a paycheck either, so it works out better for everybody,” Freeman said, noting he has years of experience driving in snowy conditions, given his ski habit. And his two four-wheel drive vehicles — a Jeep Grand Cherokee and an old Chevy “One Ton” — drove “excellent” in the snow. The 10 to 12 employees he drove showed gratitude with presents of baklava.

And customers were appreciative too. Sarah Soriano gathered needed supplies for what was predicted as the next round of snowfall Monday evening. At 12:30 p.m., Sunday, at the store she grabbed bread, peanut butter and jelly and cans of soup, “in case the power goes out,” she said. She also grabbed a few veggies — and supplies for tacos.

“It was pretty busy,” Soriano said. “But it was nice to hear especially in Highlands, that we have a store open here when we needed supplies to hunker down.”

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