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Weather expert: 'End in sight' for winter storm, as snow will likely transition to rain

We can almost see the light at the end of this snowy tunnel, according to the latest blog post from KNKX weather expert Cliff Mass.

After the Puget Sound region experiences a few more inches of snow throughout Monday, it will see a transition around dinnertime to rain at elevations below 500 feet, roughly. (Last update: 2:50 p.m. Thursday)

“The final act in our snow drama is about to unfold,” Mass wrote Monday. “A surface warm front is now pushing on to Washington's southwest shore and the upward motion associated with it is producing a band of precipitation moving northward.”

Still, Mass stressed that this is a very difficult forecast: “Snow forecasting is hard. One with an active transition from snow to rain is very hard.”

Mass predicts significant snowfall in the central and southern Cascade Mountains, as well as substantial amounts — 4-8 inches — over the northwest areas of the state. The central region of Puget Sound should see anywhere from a half inch to a few inches, Mass noted, with less near the water.

“But there is still a lot of uncertainty in this forecast,” he wrote. Then, temperatures are expected to spike, relatively, tomorrow. “And the great melt out will begin.”

Around 1:15 p.m. Monday, the National Weather Service office in Seattle reported some rain mixing with snow around the greater metro area. "Many locations reporting moderate to heavy snow with temperatures above the freezing mark," the agency tweeted. "Changeover may occur in next few hours."

The latest forecast follows several days of an "absolutely classic" winter storm that blanketed Western Washington, virtually shutting down cities up and down the Interstate 5 corridor and beyond. The northern peninsula was hit hardest, with some areas seeing nearly 2 feet of accumulation.  

UPDATE, 2 p.m. Feb. 12: Following record snowfall the past week, officials are warning of the big melt that’s coming to the region.

Power outages and the possible flooding are some of the immediate risks as snow melts or turns to rain. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan says we are through the worst of the record-setting snowfall. But there is still a lot of work to do before all the roads are cleared and services restored.

“We’re predicting that there will be freezing temperatures, probably every night,” she said. “And with that the roads will continue to ice up and sidewalks will ice up. So really we want to express to people: be cautious.”

And be patient. Metro buses are still on emergency snow routes, as crews work to plow main arterials. Last night hundreds of buses got stuck.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan on the lack of snowplows in residential areas.

Next on the list are school bus routes and drop-off and pick-up areas, so schools can reopen as soon as possible. The mayor says many residential areas will not be plowed right away, especially if they have narrow streets with limited visibility.

The city also is asking people to help clear ice and snow from storm drains, to prevent flooding. But officials say be careful clearing snow from gutters and eaves, as it can be heavier than it appears. 

Drivers must continue with caution, as the evening commute is expected to be treacherous. And residents are urged to clear driveways and walkways before the next freeze.

Freezing temperatures are expected overnight for the next several days. Sam Zimbabwe, director of the Seattle Department of Transportation says that means potentially treacherous icy conditions.

“So please, if you need to drive, be very, very careful about the conditions,” he said. “We still have a number of ‘street closed’ signs – please, those are still in place for people’s safety. Please don’t go around those.”

The department has recorded an uptick in the number of crashes as people are eager to get back to their normal, daily lives. But Zimbabwe is urging people to go slow. He also wants to remind property owners that it’s their responsibility to clear adjacent sidewalks.

“As soon as you can, take any break in the weather that you can get to get out there as it warms up a little bit, to clear them off. It’s much easier than once it gets cold again.”

UPDATE, 2:30 p.m. Feb. 12: King County Executive Dow Constantine has directed Metro to restore most of its bus service and shift operations to snow routes starting Wednesday.

The move allows the agency to transition from its Emergency Snow Network and expand to at least 90 percent of the routes countywide.

“We are planning to restore most of our bus service as road conditions allow, and maintenance staff are repairing the fleet so we can continue to ramp up service in the coming days,” said Rob Gannon, general manager for King County Metro, in a news release. “If weather and road conditions allow, our target is to return to full service on Friday, and we will keep everyone posted on our progress. We appreciate everyone’s patience as we worked to provide service in the face of record snow and ongoing winter weather.”

The ESN will be discontinued at 4 a.m. tomorrow. Then, Metro buses will operate snow routes on a route-by-route basis. Riders are encouraged to sign up for alerts and visit Metro’s website for route-specific information Wednesday morning.

If you intend to use Metro, allow an additional 30-60 minutes of travel time.

UPDATE, 4:45 p.m. Feb. 12: Seattle officials say they will keep two new emergency shelters open to help people experiencing homelessness — potentially even after the snow is off the ground.

KNKX reporter Bellamy Pailthorp reports on the response for unsheltered individuals in Seattle.

Together with King County, Seattle has provided more than 550 emergency beds during the snow storms. Two new shelters — set up in Garfield and Bitter Lake community centers — will now stay open at least through Monday morning, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said.

“We’ve had this opportunity where people who have never come inside before, have come inside,” Durkan said. “And we want to make sure that we get them evaluated, connect them up with the services that are available to them, and keep them.”

Durkan says the city may need more volunteers to keep things running. But so far, Seattleites have been generous with their time. She says the city’s navigation teams have been doing outreach around the clock, bolstered by donations of clothing, food and warm beverages from Amazon, Costco, Nordstrom and Starbucks.

“Food items as well as items to keep people warm, like gloves and socks, underwear, blankets, coats. The navigation team has the ability to offer those items to individuals who remain outdoors,” said Jason Johnson, human services director for the city. “They’re also distributing many of those items to the shelters that are staying open that are sort of stretched to be able to feed folks. And people come in very wet. So, these items are really part of this life saving effort.”

The teams have brought at least 137 people out of the cold and into shelters. Johnson says shelter workers are stretched, but so far none of its providers has closed their doors during this snow event.

Down south in Pierce County, County Council member Derek Young says crews are working to clear residential roads they couldn’t get to before.

“The main difference between Pierce County and most other counties is that we have a very large urban area,” he told All Things Considered host Ed Ronco, noting areas such as South Hill and Frederickson. “That population sort of operates like a big city, so we have to treat it like such. Then you have the rural unincorporated areas, and those present their own unique challenges, from elevation gain to just remoteness.”

Young said part of his district has one road in or out for a population of 20,000 people, for example. “When things impact that one main highway, things get pretty difficult to deal with, so they’re fairly stuck,” he said.

Listen to the full conversation below.

Pierce County Council member Derek Young talks with All Things Considered host Ed Ronco about the county's response to the snow storm.

UPDATE, 3:15 p.m. Feb. 13: Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan is calling on stir-crazy Seattleites to help clear the city’s slushy sidewalks — in part, she said, to help with efforts to get schools re-opened as soon as possible.

“Everybody get out in their neighborhood, with the shovels they have, or borrow the shovels from the neighborhood and let’s do everything we can to clear the sidewalks in all our neighborhoods and communities,” Durkan said Wednesday. “Because after the hard freeze tonight, it’ll be much harder to clear those sidewalks.”

The mayor also had another plea: don't climb ladders in an attempt to clear rooftops of heavy snow. There have been reports around the region of roofs and carports collapsing as the snow melts.

Still, even if residents are worried about potential property damage, Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins is warning people about the high risk of injury from snow sliding down. He says to stay off the roof and let gravity do the work.

“You know a lot of snow is starting to melt off those rooflines,” Scoggins said. “And it may seem like it’s really easy to just go up there and knock it down. Please don’t do that. Just let it melt and let it fall. We do not want to be responding to those types of injuries when we don’t have to.”

Instead, city officials say to clear drains and downspouts so melting snow has a place to go.

UPDATE, 4:55 p.m. Feb. 13: Seattle Public Utilities says the worst seems to be over as far as power outages go. Now, they’re working hard to catch up on missed garbage and recycling pickups from Monday and Tuesday.

Mami Hara, SPU general manager and CEO, says workers are doing the best they can while staying safe.

“Trucks will be equipped with chains and carry additional staff to respond to the mixed conditions,” Hara said. “However, some hilly streets may be too icy for the drivers to navigate. So we may not be able to reach all of our Monday and Tuesday customers. And we thank them for understanding that safety remains a top priority for everyone.”

The public can help by shoveling driveways and walkways to make sure their bins are clear of snow and ice – or moving the bins to a more accessible location.

SPU says it’s important to make sure that garbage bags are tied up securely so that hungry predators, such as crows and rats, can’t get into them.

The utility also is offering free drop-offs at transfer stations from now through Saturday. That’s for Seattle residents whose pickups were delayed for more than a week.

And if you’re wondering why streets aren’t plowed in your neighborhood, it might just be too big a risk.

Sam Zimbabwe, Seattle’s transportation director, says clearing many residential areas is massive challenge.

“Both the equipment fitting down the streets, the risk and the challenge of plowing in cars and sort of making it even harder for some folks to get out,” he said. “And just the risk of our own equipment getting stuck in some of the residential communities. So, we’re trying to assess places that are more impassable. And we’re not going on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis and trying to clear every street. Because that would be a challenge.”

UPDATE, 5 p.m. Feb. 13: Like many jurisdictions in Western Washington, Lewis County has declared a state of emergency, proving that we’re not quite out of the woods yet in the aftermath of this winter storm.

The eastern part of the county was hit particularly hard by snow. All Things Considered host Ed Ronco checked in with Hal Blanton, who owns Blanton's Market, the only grocery store in Packwood, due south of Mount Rainier. Listen to their full conversation below. 

All Things Considered host Ed Ronco talks with Hal Blanton, shop owner in Packwood.

UPDATE, 2:50 p.m. Feb. 14: Members of the Washington National Guard are in east King County for the next few days, helping first responders manage the remaining snow on the ground. County leaders made the call Wednesday requesting assistance.

Joseph Siemandel, a National Guard spokesman, says members have been dispatched to Issaquah and Carnation.

"They identified a need that they didn't have vehicles high enough to get through some of the snow drifts, some of the bad roads,” he said. “The roads are gross, not drivable.”

Siemandel says no other counties have asked the National Guard to help at this point.

Other areas in Western Washington are still dealing with the effects of massive amounts of snow that accumulated over the past week and a half.

Officials in Lewis County declared a state of emergency this week. Power has been out for parts of that county and many roads are impassible. A few feet of snow in certain parts of Clallam County still lingers, as well.

This post is developing. Check back for updates. 

Kari Plog is a former KNKX reporter who covered the people and systems in Pierce, Thurston and Kitsap counties, with an emphasis on police accountability.