Drier weather ahead after snow buries Whatcom County

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDFebruary 24, 2014 

While much of western Washington got the same old rain Monday, Feb. 24, Whatcom County and its immediate environs received their biggest snowfall in more than two years.

The risks accompanying this winter storm may not be over; county residents could contend with a dicey commute on Tuesday morning. Temperatures overnight were predicted to stay cold enough to keep the snow coming - maybe an inch in Bellingham, up to 3 inches in the county - with the possible addition of freezing rain.

The National Weather Service on Monday afternoon warned of poor driving conditions in a winter weather advisory that was to expire at 4 a.m. Tuesday.

Lowland Whatcom County residents, who had as much as 18 inches of accumulation on Sunday afternoon Feb. 23, probably will see the last of the snow by Tuesday morning. The weather service was predicting dry conditions for Tuesday.

The high temperature on Tuesday afternoon was predicted to be 49 degrees, which is normal for late February.

Snow will melt rapidly on Tuesday, bringing the risk of plugged storm drains and flooding on city streets.

"It could be almost any intersection," said Scott Brown-Davis, a Bellingham city stormwater maintenance supervisor. "All over town you could have some isolated flooding."

City crews were scheduled to be out all Monday night into Tuesday morning, clearing storm drains as needed.

Whatcom County bore the brunt of the weekend snow. Depths reported Sunday evening ranged from 61/2 inches in Fairhaven to 8 inches in Sudden Valley, 11 inches near Ferndale, 13 inches near Sumas, and 15 inches of new snow - 18 inches total - in Maple Falls.

Road conditions Monday were brutal in the north county areas at times. East Badger Road was closed for about two hours from Guide Meridian to Highway 9 as swirling winds caused white-out conditions, according to the Washington Department of Transportation.

Across the county, snow-laden branches snapped and trees fell, blocking roads and snapping power lines. Thousands of PSE customers lost power, some for many hours, as utility crews worked to restore electricity.

It was a busy day for snow plows and tow trucks, which spent much of the day clearing roads and rescuing vehicles, from major routes like Guide Meridian to arterial streets in Sudden Valley.

Most flights got out of Bellingham International Airport Monday after many cancellations Sunday evening.

The last significant winter storm, in January 2012, dropped 18 inches of snow on south Lake Whatcom, lasted for most of a week and closed most public schools in the county for four days.

The Weather Service on Saturday, Feb. 22, called for 4 to 10 inches of snow in the Bellingham area by Sunday night. Forecasters missed their mark in outlying areas.

Then again, the Weather Service saw snow on the horizon as early as Thursday, Feb. 20.

"The (computer forecast) models were showing this can happen, but they were differing on the strength and timing. That's what makes it difficult" to predict the amount and extent of the snow, meteorologist Johnny Burg said.

All the snow that has fallen so far this month has put on hold any calls for a summer drought. The snowpacks that supply most of the year's water for households, farms and threatened salmon have reached normal levels for this time of year.

Just three weeks ago, hydrologists and policymakers were in early discussions about whether to declare a drought.

The date in the first sentence was corrected Tuesday, Feb. 25.

Reach Ralph Schwartz at 360-715-2289 or ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Politics blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog or get updates on Twitter at @bhampolitics.

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