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'Problematic snow' is in the forecast. So are fines if you don't clear the sidewalks

Snow flurries have started in many areas around Western Washington, and an Arctic front is on its way to the Puget Sound region.

At this point, not much is expected to stick until later this weekend. But the National Weather Service says the bitter cold certainly will arrive by early next week, along with a real chance of "problematic snow."

Seattle officials have workers on call over the weekend and plan to open emergency shelters Sunday night. They're also calling on residents to get ready now, by stocking up on emergency supplies and making sure they have salt and snow shovels ready.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan says one of the lessons learned from last February's big snow storms was that property owners need more reminders about their obligations.

“Many people don’t understand that homeowners and apartment owners have the obligation to keep their sidewalks clear,” Durkan said. “So if you see that snow, do your job. And if you can’t, get people to help you. And if you don’t have your snow shovel yet, maybe you should go get one.”

Clark Matthews is with Rooted in Rights. Matthews, who uses a wheelchair, says his group of disabled advocates and filmmakers is directly impacted by snow.

“If there’s snow on the ground, we can’t get out for days, if not weeks, at a time,” Matthews said.

During the big snow storm last February, he said he couldn’t push around his neighborhood, Columbia City, for about two weeks because of the lack of shoveled sidewalks. At that time, his group posted a call for stories about people stuck in the snow and received dozens of them. They made videos out of the information they got, to raise awareness about what happens when people don’t do their part.

Matthews says the outreach campaign is “tackling that ignorance – letting people know. Our duty is to each other, to get through the season.”

“I can empathize a little,” he said, adding that he’s from the East Coast, where intense wintery weather is much more common. “Shoveling is just, like, part of your social contract. That’s what you do every year. And Seattle, this is maybe kind of a new thing for folks. It doesn’t happen very often. But just because it’s novel doesn’t mean it’s not important.”

Seattle will be sending out inspectors to major thoroughfares and areas near transit routes to ensure that businesses as well as homeowners are clearing their sidewalks. And they say they're ready to issue fines if needed.

A recent ordinance from the Seattle City Council set the fines for ignoring a warning to shovel sidewalks at $50 for residential properties. For non-residential, the fine is $250 for the first violation, $500 for the second violation, and $1,000 for the third violation. 

That's after the pressure from disability rights groups, who say last year, many people who rely on wheelchairs or canes were trapped inside for days.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to