Wednesday’s weather took a turn for the worse as snow fell again around Whatcom County and the National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning, which is in effect until 4 a.m. Thursday, with particular concern for areas north of Bellingham that were hardest hit by the recent series of snow and ice storms.
And area schools took precaution and canceled classes for the fourth straight day Thursday.
School officials in the Bellingham, Lynden, Ferndale, Mount Baker, Nooksack Valley, Blaine and Meridian districts announced Wednesday that their schools will be closed Thursday. Among private schools, Assumption Catholic and Lynden Christian will also be closed Thursday.
Whatcom Community College closed early Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. and was assessing whether classes would be canceled Thursday. Bellingham Technical College closed at 3 p.m. Wednesday and posted a delayed opening of 10 a.m. for Thursday.
National Weather Service forecasters said to expect a warm and wet system to move in from the south Thursday, with rain displacing the cold air and snow that’s been streaming from British Columbia for the past several days.
A coastal flood advisory was issued from 1 to 9 a.m. Thursday as high tides coincide with the low pressure system. Tides could be 1 foot to 1.5 feet above the forecast high tide, the weather service said. High Thursday is expected to reach near 50 degrees with a 90 percent chance of rain.
Whatcom County issued an emergency proclamation, allowing local officials to seek state aid or use private resources to address specific needs in a natural disaster, said John Gargett, deputy director of the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office Division of Emergency Management. Lynden officials also filed an emergency proclamation, Gargett said.
“A couple of our communities are running low on salt,” Gargett said. “We’ll be making a request for things like additional salt. We’re (almost) at day seven and it’s been a 24/7 operation. It’s reached the point to where we need to start asking for help.”
Mike Olinger, superintendent of maintenance at the Bellingham Public Works Department, said officials have discussed an emergency proclamation for additional resources but aren’t ready to take that step.
“Everything that we’ve used so far is what we’ve had on hand, stockpiled. We’re getting low on supplies.”
But with the forecast of rain and significantly warmer temperatures, Olinger said crews that have been working around the clock to keep roads clear would now be keeping an eye on storm drains that have been blocked by snow.
“Everyone fully expects that we’ll be going from running (plow) trucks to trying to dig catch basins out.”
Wednesday’s winter weather woes
Observers in the Ferndale area said snow began to fall late Wednesday morning. In Bellingham, heavy snow began about 1:30 p.m., limiting visibility to less than a mile and making streets slushy and slick. Many traffic incidents were reported, keeping emergency workers busy.
Fewer than 50 Puget Sound Energy customers remained without electricity at 4 p.m. Wednesday, down from about 1,500 customers Tuesday and some 7,000 customers who lost power at the height of the storm that roared through Saturday and Sunday. Most outages were in scattered small pockets around the county.
Classes for Wednesday were canceled at schools in the Bellingham, Blaine, Ferndale, Lynden, Lynden Christian, Nooksack Valley, Mount Baker and Meridian districts. Most school activities were canceled or rescheduled. Lummi Nation School and other tribal school programs were canceled for Wednesday.
Northwest Indian College was closed Wednesday.
Western Washington University canceled its evening classes Wednesday. Northwest Academy in Bellingham canceled Wednesday night classes.
Sunil Harman, director of aviation for the Port of Bellingham, said a few flights had been delayed but Bellingham International Airport was open. Crews were plowing and applying deicer to runways and maintaining airport equipment, Harman said.
“Our visibility isn’t at a level that would impede instrument landing,” Harman said. “It’s blowing more than it’s accumulating. That’s a positive sign.”
City of Bellingham offices closed early, at 3 p.m. City of Ferndale tweeted that its offices closed at noon Wednesday. Blaine offices were staying open. Lynden city offices remained open, but employees concerned about the weather were being allowed to leave, an official said.
Bellingham Public Library closed early at 3:15 p.m. Wednesday, after closing early Monday and Tuesday. The Everson and Lynden libraries, part of the Whatcom County Library System, opened late. North Fork, Sumas, and South Whatcom libraries were closed and the Bookmobile run was canceled, the WCLS said on its website.
Bellis Fair mall closed early Wednesday, at 5 p.m. Posts on social media and anecdotal reports indicated the many offices and some business were closing early Wednesday.
Mt. Baker Ski Area remained closed for a third straight day as Washington State Department of Transportation crews address a 10-mile closure of the Mount Baker Highway east of Glacier, where about 100 trees have toppled across the road under the weight of some 4 feet of snow that’s fallen across the west slopes of the North Cascades in the past week. It was unknown when the road would reopen.
In the backcountry, the avalanche danger remain considerable both above and below the treeline, according to the Northwest Avalanche Center.
Red Cross officials opened a shelter Tuesday night in the East Whatcom Regional Resource Center, 8251 Kendall Road, Maple Falls, said Betsy Robertson, Northwest Region communications program manager.
Only one person stayed overnight, but many area residents whose power had been out for more than a day ate hot meals and drank hot beverages and socialized, Robertson said.
“It’s more than just for sleeping,” she said, adding the center would remain open as long as needed.