Some Whatcom County schools set early release for Friday and many residents did their weekend shopping ahead of a winter storm that forecasters said threatens fierce winds and lowland snow.
Light snow began to fall about 6:30 a.m. in Bellingham, Lynden and Sudden Valley.
Flurries continued past 10 a.m. in Bellingham but little or no accumulation was reported.
Streets in Bellingham were mostly clear early Friday, but some rural roads remained covered in compact snow and ice after the season’s first snowstorm that hit Super Bowl Sunday.
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A record low temperature of 18 degrees Thursday in Bellingham broke the mark set in 2014, and it was the third record low in four days as cold Canadian air settled over Washington state and forecasters said no relief from the unseasonable chill was in sight for a week or more.
National Weather Service and emergency management officials were warning Western Washington residents not to drive unless absolutely necessary because the storm could drop between 2 inches and up to a foot of snow at various locations in the lowlands from Bellingham to south of Seattle.
A high wind warning and a winter storm watch were issued for Whatcom County from Friday night to Saturday night as the National Weather Service expected northeast winds at 30 to 40 mph, with gusts to 60 mph.
Because of the storm’s unpredictable nature, forecasters were unsure when snow would start and how much would fall in the Puget Sound lowlands, weather service meteorologist Reid Wolcott said Thursday.
“The models are kind of all over the place as far as when and where and how much,” Wolcott said Thursday at a media briefing. “At this point, I would expect a bad commute (Friday).”
Whatcom County could get 2 to 3 inches, areas from Skagit County south could get 4 to 7 inches and a worst-case scenario said up to a foot of snow could fall closer to Seattle, according to afternoon forecasts.
“We’re going to get some snow out of this — the question is, ‘How much?’ ” Wolcott said.
A fatal fire Thursday night in Glenhaven could be linked to a woodstove, heating or an electrical issue, said Whatcom County fire investigator Mitch Nolze.
Bellingham, Ferndale and Meridan schools kept classes to a half day.
Weather forecasts forced the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association to cancel its regional wrestling tournaments scheduled for Saturday around the state.
An ACT test for colleges admission scheduled for Saturday at Western Washington University was canceled because of the weather, officials said.
Fred Meyer on Lakeway was mobbed Thursday night with customers stocking up on both emergency supplies and regular groceries, according to social media posts.
Videos showed crowds that rivaled the night before Thanksgiving.
Whatcom Transportation Authority tweeted early Friday that its buses were starting on time, and that riders could stay abreast of delays or service cancellations on Twitter.
Public Works road crews in Whatcom County, Bellingham and other cities, plus the state Department of Transportation, were prepping roads with sand, salt and de-icer and preparing for round-the-clock shifts if the storm reaches its forecast fury.
John Gargett, deputy director of the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office Division of Emergency Management, said officials responsible for roads, fire protection, law enforcement, schools and other agencies met Thursday to discuss their plans for the upcoming storm and the possibility that the deep freeze will persist.
“A lot of the organizations — especially the schools — are keeping in close contact so that we are all on the same page with regard to storm preparations,” Gargett said in an interview. “We’re making sure that we’re aware of each others’ capabilities ahead of time.”