Spring snowstorm hits Washington mountains


by Associated Press and KING5.com


Posted on April 8, 2010 at 6:50 AM

Updated Thursday, Apr 8 at 10:20 PM

SEATTLE -- The latest spring storm to hit Washington has brought more snow to the Cascade Mountains and gusty winds that toppled trees and caused scattered power outages in Eastern Washington.

The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning through Friday morning for the north and central Cascades, and the Olympics.

Hail and snow reached the lower elevations of the Puget Sound region Thursday morning while heavy snow dropped in the Cascades, surprising residents, drivers and even state troopers. And it looks like there's more on the way.

The latest spring storm hitting Washington is expected to dump another 1 to 2 feet of snow in the Cascades, making driving dangerous in the highway passes. Several spin-out accidents caused by slush and wet snow on I-90 near the Snoqualmie Pass prompted Department of Transportation officials to close traffic several times during the day.

"It's snowing hard, poor visibility, a lot of blowing snow," said Ricky Henderson, WSDOT Winter Maintenance Supervisor. "In the spring, we get some storms that sneak up on us, it's not that unusual, but it catches a lot of people by surprise."

"I knew it was going to be iffy, but I didn't know it was going to be this bad," said Ralph Allen, who was driving Lake Forest Park to Yakima. "It's crazy having winter in April."

DOT brought in extra crews that worked all morning to clear the snow on the roads. As of noon, DOT officials said I-90 was relatively clear, but traction tires are still required at Stevens Pass and advised at Snoqualmie Pass.

By late afternoon, a second squall blew in, sending pellets of snow back onto the roads.  DOT crews said they also expected another 3 to 4 inches of snow overnight, and may have to assess avalanche risk in the morning.

A winter storm warning for the Olympics remains in effect until noon Friday, with additional 6 to 12 inches of snow expected. The heaviest accumulations will be along the west-facing slopes.

In Eastern Washington, the Weather Service says a 56 mph gust was clocked west of Moses Lake. Pullman recorded a 53 mph gust and Spokane International Airport saw 48 mph. The winds caused some trees to blow over in Spokane. Several utilities reported scattered power outages.

The deadline to remove studded tires has been extended through April 17. State Patrol says they are expecting more heavy snow to fall later today and urging drivers to be prepared.

Snow in the lowlands

Meanwhile, in the lowlands, KING 5 viewers reported waking up to light snow in Woodinville, Monroe and other areas in north Puget Sound. The storm also dropped sleet, wet snow and hail on I-5 and I-405 from south Everett to Totem Lake and even parts of Kirkland, causing significant delays and backups during the morning commute.

"I've seen it snow in March here, but never in April, ever," said Bothell resident Fred Scott. 

KING 5 Meteorologist Rich Marriott says the snow level could drop to 500 feet Thursday night with lows in the 30s, threatening snow on some Western Washington foothills.

Very cold air is moving behind the storm front, which will bring a mixed bag of weather in the region: heavy showers, gusty wind and even some sunbreaks. While the snow drops in the passes, Seattle area residents saw sunbreaks and patches of blue sky.

"I'm standing out here with blue sky and the sun is kind of out, and I've got some very thick, wet snowflakes dropping around me," said Marriott. "That the kind of day we're in."

Daytime wind will be the strongest north of Everett, and strong convergence zones from Seattle northward will bring locally heavy showers later today. Gusty winds have prompted ferry officials to cancel the 11:15 am sailing from Port Townsend and the 12 p.m. sailing from Keystone due to high winds and rough seas.

Marriott says there's a chance for isolated thundershowers in the convergence zone Seattle northward. Most of that action will happen later Friday afternoon and early evening.

Spring weather returns for the weekend on through Monday with partly to mostly sunny skies and highs back into the low to mid 50s, Marriott said.