Here’s what you need to know about Whatcom snow for Tuesday

Bellingham snow storm in pictures

See photos of the snow and cold temperatures that blanketed Bellingham over the past few days. While many stayed inside and off of the roads, others took the opportunity to explore the winter wonderland.
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See photos of the snow and cold temperatures that blanketed Bellingham over the past few days. While many stayed inside and off of the roads, others took the opportunity to explore the winter wonderland.

It’s Wednesday and here’s what you need to know about the Whatcom snow

Schools were closed and some activities were canceled for a second straight day across Whatcom County as snow blanketed the entire Puget Sound region, which has been in the grip of unseasonably cold weather and repeated snowstorms for more than a week.

Some 5 inches or more of new snow fell overnight, and continued to fall Tuesday afternoon, leaving some parts of lowland Whatcom County with a foot of snow after a series of storms that began Super Bowl Sunday.

As much as 3 more inches could sock the lowlands Tuesday night, the National Weather Service said as it extended a winter weather advisory until 10 p.m.

“Additional snow accumulations of 1 to 3 inches — especially away from the water, closer to the foothills, and over Whatcom County where cold Fraser Outflow continues,“ forecasters said online.

“Unsettled weather pattern continues this week with below-normal temperatures and cold nights,” forecasters said. “Threat of tree damage, power outages, roof collapses as well as street flooding will continue this week.”

Environment Canada said snow, possibly heavy, was forecast through Tuesday night for Abbotsford, B.C., just across the border from Sumas.

Bellingham, Blaine, Ferndale, Lynden, Meridian, Nooksack Valley and Mount Baker districts and Lummi Nation announced no school for Wednesday.

Northwest Indian College will be closed Wednesday. Whatcom Community College and Bellingham Technical College plan to open at 10 a.m. and Western Washington University plans to open at noon Wednesday.

Sun on Wednesday

A measure of relief is due Wednesday, with skies turning mostly sunny and temperatures rising to the mid-30s, the weather service said.

But another storm is due to arrive Thursday, bringing rain to the lowlands and snow above 1,000 feet.

“Awful, 8 inches and still snowing in Blaine,” Paula Dunn said Tuesday morning on The Bellingham Herald’s Facebook page.

After snow started dusting Whatcom County on Sunday afternoon, Graham Marzocco and two friends decided to snowboard down Alabama Hill just after midnight Feb. 11, 2019. "I love urban snowboarding, and [the] conditions were perfect," Marzocco said.

John Strachan said it was difficult to measure the snow’s depth in Lynden because of persistent wind from the Fraser River Valley of British Columbia.

“Drifts are up to 4 feet and there is no place the northeast wind isn’t blowing,” Strachan posted.

Meteorologists call that insidious northeast blast the Fraser Outflow, and that’s what’s keeping daytime temperatures in Whatcom County an average 13 degrees below the 48 degrees that’s normal for mid-February.

Four record-low temperatures have been recorded in Bellingham since Feb. 4.

Road crews work overtime

Main streets in Bellingham were plowed and passable Tuesday morning, but observers said some side streets were covered in deep, fluffy snow.

Courtney Sawyer of Happy Valley said she measured a foot of snow in her backyard near the former Larrabee Elementary School.

The temperature was 26 degrees at Bellingham International Airport at 4 a.m., with a northeast wind at 14 mph and a wind chill of 14.

Light snow and mist was reported at the airport at 6 a.m., and residents in Blaine, Ferndale and Acme said via social media that snow continued in those areas.

North County roads

Randy Small of Lynden, who maintains the Whatcom County Weather page on Facebook, said roads in the North County were passable, but drivers should use caution.

“The roads in Lynden are as bad as I’ve seen them in the last couple of days,” Small said in a Facebook Live broadcast as he drove his Honda Odyssey toward Ferndale in the pre-dawn darkness Tuesday.

“They are plowing, but it is compact snow and it is icy out. It is snowing and it is blowing and drifting in certain places,” Small said.

Small’s live feed showed a pair of snow plows clearing the road, one truck following the other, on Birch Bay Lynden Road.

We’ve started a list of Whatcom businesses that are taking a snow day Tuesday

“East of Glacier, they got about 5 inches,” National Weather Service meteorologist Dustin Guy in Seattle said in a morning interview. “You guys (in Bellingham) have been on the fringe of some of the moisture.”

Guy said there’s no sign that the big chill will end any time soon, but that snow will accumulate more slowly.

“It’s more a trickle than a hose,” he said.

What is the wind chill index? Duane Friend, an environmental educator with the University of Illinois Extension, explains how weather forecasters calculate those winter temperatures.

‘Stay off the roads’

Many Whatcom County roads were covered in compact snow and ice Tuesday morning as public works crews worked around the clock with plows and trucks to treat roadways with sand, salt and anti-icing mixtures.

“Please, continue to stay off the roads tonight unless you absolutely must travel, state Department of Transportation officials tweeted Monday evening. “We will work through the night to clear highways, however, snow is still coming down in many areas. Tuesday A-M: consider working remote, taking a snow day or think about using public transit.”

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Sudden Valley Community Association reported treacherous road conditions on its website, and said the private homeowners association road crews were starting to plow at 4:30 a.m.

Mount Baker Highway was bare and wet with patches of snow and ice, WSDOT said online. Traction tires were required.

Ski area open

Mt. Baker Ski Area reported that it was open with normal midweek operations and 19 inches of new snow over the past 24 hours.

An avalanche warning was issued for parts of the North Cascades, and the Northwest Avalanche Center said the danger was considerable in the Mount Baker wilderness backcountry.

Skagit Breaking, a community news site on Facebook, posted a photo of a tree leaning over northbound Interstate 5 near Lake Samish.

WSDOT spokeswoman Andrea Petrich said crews were headed to investigate.

“Lots of trees getting heavy with all the snow right now,” she said via Twitter.

Otherwise, I-5 was reported free of major incidents through Whatcom County.

Schools closed

Bellingham, Blaine, Ferndale, Lynden, Meridian, Mount Baker districts and Lummi Nation announced that schools are closed Tuesday, along with Bellingham Technical College, Whatcom Community College and Western Washington University.

In Bellingham Schools, year-round staff is required to work, but Superintendent Greg Baker closed the district office Tuesday morning and sent employees home.

No major outages

Puget Sound Energy reported a few minor and localized outages in Whatcom County via its online map.

Some 61,000 PSE customers were without power Tuesday afternoon in the Seattle area, which received up to a foot of snow followed by rain as temperatures rose.

Rapid snowmelt in Seattle was causing some clogged drains and flooded roads, Guy said.

Those conditions weren’t expected in Whatcom County, at least not until Thursday, he said.

No major trouble

No major incidents were reported overnight in Whatcom County, said Wallace Kost, emergency management program specialist at the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office Division of Emergency Management.

After a weekend that included power outages, car wrecks and fires blamed on the weather, the What-Comm emergency dispatch center said the county’s 911 lines were relatively quiet.

“Closures help keep people home,” the 911 center said Tuesday morning via Facebook Messenger. “When the transition from snow to melting occurs, I expect more people on the roads resulting in more accidents. But for now, most appear to be staying home.”

Residents were asked to call 911 to report emergencies requiring police, fire and medical aid — but not to inquire about road conditions or power outages.

PSE has an online outage page and information about road conditions and closures is available from the city of Bellingham and Whatcom County.

Emergency information is also available online from Whatcom County.

Emergency proclamations

Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville issued an emergency proclamation Monday, joining Whatcom County and Washington state in a step that authorizes overtime and other spending and lets governments take action outside the normal approval process.

“This allows each Bellingham department to exercise the powers vested under this proclamation without regard to time-consuming procedures or formalities,” Linville said at the city’s page on Facebook. “This proclamation enables the city to open temporary emergency shelter in the event that our current shelters reach capacity.”

Bus, airport delays

Whatcom Transportation Authority tweeted that its buses were chained and operating normally, but that riders should expect delays because chains limit speeds to 25 mph.

Route 72X from Kendall was on a detour, as were Route 512 service to Sudden Valley and Route 27 between Ferndale and Cordata. WTA’s zone service and Flex rides were suspended until further notice.

Bellingham airport reported online that two flights were canceled and the runway was closed because of ice around midnight Tuesday morning.

“Our airport operations crew has been hard at work through the night, and the runway is now open,” officials tweeted at 4:30 a.m. “More severe weather is in the forecast, though. Please check with your airline for updated flight information.”

This story will be updated. You can share your photos of the storm here.

See what’s happening around Whatcom County with these webcams.

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Robert Mittendorf covers civic issues, weather, traffic and how people are coping with the high cost of housing for The Bellingham Herald. A journalist since 1984, he’s also a volunteer firefighter for South Whatcom Fire Authority.