Read the latest: Here’s how ice will impact Whatcom County on Thursday
Temperatures in Whatcom County rose above 40 degrees on Wednesday for the first time since Feb. 3 as a slow thaw began after four days of snow and a cold, hard wind that knocked out power, caused crashes and closed schools across Western Washington.
Bellingham Public Schools, Lummi Nation schools and the Ferndale and Mount Baker school districts announced they will be closed again Thursday. Meridian schools will start two hours late.
“As I just drove the city, people are walking in the streets due to unsafe sidewalks, parking lots are either deep in snow or potentially turning into ice arenas. Due to these conditions, we will remain closed tomorrow, Thursday, Feb. 14,” Superintendent Greg Baker wrote to parents Wednesday afternoon.
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Western Washington University will be open. Bellingham Technical College has delayed opening until 10:10 a.m. Thursday. And Whatcom Community College will open at 10 a.m. Thursday.
Northwest Indian College will be closed Thursday.
Lynden School District plans to open on time with buses on snow routes.
Thursday’s forecast called for rain in the Whatcom County lowlands and more snow in the mountains above 1,500 feet, the National Weather Service said.
“Well, if you’re sick of the snow, we have some news you might like,” meteorologists in Seattle tweeted about 12:30 p.m. “Thursday (through) Saturday’s system looks warm enough for rain in the lowlands.”
High temperatures over the next three days will be in the high 30s to around 40 in the Bellingham area, forecasters said.
Rain or rain mixed with snow was forecast for lowland Whatcom County on Thursday morning, changing to rain by late morning.
Meteorologists warned that street flooding and landslides were a possibility as snow melts.
Any snow that melts during the day will freeze overnight, especially on roadways, so driving will be tricky, the National Weather Service said Wednesday.
Colleges and secondary schools in Whatcom County closed for a third straight day Wednesday, and government organizations, businesses and others closed their offices and canceled activities, special programs and meetings in the face of unrelenting snowfall that continued overnight.
Lowland areas received 6 to 8 inches of snow Tuesday and 3 to 4 inches more fell Wednesday morning, observers said, leaving the ground covered with a foot or more in many locations as one of the longest cold spells in the past 30 years gripped Western Washington.
More snow fell about 4 a.m. Wednesday in many areas of Whatcom County, including Ferndale and Bellingham.
“It was snowing hard this morning,” said Alicia DeBeeld of Fairhaven.
“The roads were covered but it wasn’t hard to drive in,” DeBeeld said at The Bellingham Herald’s page on Facebook.
It was 26 degrees under overcast skies at Bellingham International Airport at 9 a.m. Wednesday.
Winds were out of the north at 16 mph and gusting to 22 mph as a savage stream of cold air spilled from the Fraser River Valley of British Columbia.
Meteorologists call it the Fraser Outflow, and it’s why daytime temperatures in Whatcom County are averaging more than 13 degrees below the high of 48 degrees that’s normal for mid-February.
Four record-low temperatures have been recorded in Bellingham since Feb. 4 and the current 10-day stretch of high temperatures below 40 degrees is tied with December 2008 for sixth place among cold spells over the past 30 years, the National Weather Service said.
“Seattle has more snow than a lot of major metro areas on the East Coast,” the National Weather Service tweeted. “Officially the snowiest February on record at SeaTac Airport.”
Commuters arriving for work in Bellingham from the North County reported heavier traffic than they’d seen Tuesday.
Compact snow and sand covered many downtown Bellingham streets — and there were some clear spots, observers said.
Pedestrians were finding it easier to walk in roadways than on unshoveled sidewalks.
“Where I live on Samish Way we got another 3 inches of snow overnight (I’ve got about a foot now) but my bus is having no trouble on a plowed and mostly clear Samish Way,” said Amy Cloud, spokeswoman for the Bellingham Public Works Department.
Birchwood-area resident Becky Sorensen said via Facebook that her neighborhood near Bellingham Technical College got about 3 inches of snow overnight.
What-Comm, the county’s 911 dispatch center, warned on its Facebook page of icy patches along Interstate 5 through Bellingham.
“If you haven’t had a chance to look outside yet, several inches of new snow fell overnight — so please consider this before making the decision to drive. Several reports of stuck vehicles throughout the county,” dispatch officials said on Facebook.
A crash was reported about 4:30 a.m. on southbound I-5 near the North Lake Samish ramps, but it had been cleared by 6 a.m.
State Department of Transportation crews continued with 24-hour operations, said WSDOT spokeswoman Andrea Petrich on Twitter.
“Our Whatcom County crews continue to work around-the-clock treating and plowing the highways as needed,” Petrich said. “If you see them out on the road, please slow down and give them room to work.”
In addition, Whatcom County and city road crews worked through the night to plow, sand and spread salt and anti-icing solutions, officials said.
Observers in Bellingham said that main streets were clear, but that side streets were covered with 6 inches or more snow and driving was difficult, especially for low-clearance cars.
Northwest Indian College, Whatcom Community College, Bellingham Technical College and Western Washington University all canceled classes for the day Wednesday.
Several Whatcom Transportation Authority bus routes were detoured, and some delays were expected because buses with snow chains are limited to 25 mph, the WTA tweeted.
Route 65 was canceled through Everson-Nooksack-Birch Bay-Ferndale and Routes 11 and 92 serving Western Washington University were canceled, as were WWU shuttles. There was also no Zone service or Flex rides, WTA tweeted.
Trash pickup was being affected by the weather, and garbage and recycling hauler Sanitary Services Co. asked customers for patience.
“If we cannot collect material on your regular service day due to unsafe road conditions, please leave your container(s) out at the curb (or alley), “ said recycling/safety manager Rodd Pemble.
“We will collect material as soon as possible.,” he said in an email. “This may be the next business day or the next time we are scheduled to service your area.”
Customers also could place their bins out of traffic along the closest accessible road, because the containers bear a number unique to each customer, Pemble said.
School bonds passing
A special election continued despite the storm, and bond measures for Ferndale and Nooksack Valley schools were passing in early returns with the required 60 percent supermajority, according to the Whatcom County Auditor’s Office.
Voter turnout was 38 percent, about half the rate for the recent midterm elections.
Fewer than 200 Puget Sound Energy customers were without electricity on the east side of Lynden and about 17,000 remained without power across the utility company’s Western Washington service area.
Lynden joined Bellingham, Whatcom County and the state of Washington in issuing an emergency proclamation that lets officials use overtime and take other steps during the weather crisis that usually would require advance approval.
Such a designation also allows local agencies to seek reimbursement from the federal government for disaster-related expenses.
Bellingham International Airport reported no delays Wednesday and tweeted that its runway remained open overnight.
Bellingham announced Tuesday that only essential city offices would remain open.
Bellingham Schools closed its district office Tuesday.
But the Whatcom County Council met as scheduled Tuesday night.
Avalanche danger ‘considerable’
Mount Baker Ski Area reported 13 inches of snow in the past 24 hours and its website said that it was open Wednesday with normal midweek operations.
Northwest Avalanche Center said online that the danger level remains at the “considerable” level in Mount Baker wilderness backcountry.
Mount Baker Highway was open to the ski area, the state Department of Transportation said online.
WSDOT said the road was bare and wet at the 4,250-foot level, with patches of snow and ice. The road is closed past the ski area. Traction tires were required.
More than 2 feet of snow was expected in the North Cascades from a storm scheduled to start Thursday, the ski area reported.
Warming and drop-in centers opened in Bellingham and Lummi Nation and others were ready if needed, said Wallace Kost, emergency management program specialist for the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office Division of Emergency Management.
Officials and volunteers with Whatcom County search and rescue organizations, Community Emergency Response Teams and Community Organizations Active in Disaster groups were on standby, Kost said Tuesday evening.
Kost said CERT volunteers were helping at a drop-in center in the Bellingham Public Library.
No incidents requiring specialized SAR teams were reported, he said.
Some fire departments added extra staffing and call volume for both police and fire responses have increased slightly, mostly because of car crashes, Kost said.
Bellingham Fire tweeted Monday that its six stations answered 426 calls for services from Feb. 4 through Feb. 11, an average of 60 alarms per day.
Bellingham Police reminded drivers to use caution on snow-covered roads.
“For everyone’s sake, please slow down,” officials tweeted Tuesday. “Stopping distance increases at a ridiculous rate on compact snow and ice.”
Also on Twitter, Washington State Patrol Trooper Heather Axtman implored drivers to ease up on the gas pedal.
“Maybe if I say it s-l-o-w-e-r, you’ll drive slower, Axtman said. “We’ve responded to 482 collisions in the last week,” she said Tuesday.