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Region prepares for wintry blast, with snow expected over next few days

A sign indicates a road closure on Queen Anne Avenue North, during a snow storm in 2019. It says "Snow Closure" and "Do Not Enter" and is placed in the middle of the snow-covered road.
Ed Ronco
A sign stops people from driving down a steep portion of Queen Anne Avenue North in Seattle, during the winter of 2019. The signs are nearby and ready to go this week, as the region braces for its first snowfall of the year.

Updates on weather forecast added at 10:40 a.m. Thursday:
Western Washington is bracing for the first significant snowfall of the winter. 

Snow is on they way, mainly for areas south of King County Thursday, and more is expected to follow. The National Weather Service says the Seattle area will most likely see snow between Friday night and into Saturday morning, when a second storm system arrives, with 4 to 6 inches of snow possible. That system is expected to bring additional snowfall to south Puget Sound. 

A winter storm watch will be in effect in the entire region Friday afternoon through Saturday afternoon.

Sound Transit, King County Metro and the state Department of Transportation — along with city leaders up and down Western Washington — say they’re making preparations to deal with the inclement weather.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan says the city's planning for inclement weather has been different this time: Snow routes had to change to account for the closure of the West Seattle Bridge -- and to make sure COVID-19 testing sites remain open. Additionally, remote schooling and work-from-home policies mean there are fewer drivers on the roads than in the past.

But Durkan says no one should take that as an invitation to get behind the wheel.

"To all the people who've moved here in the last few years and you think you're a great driver in the snow, you're not," Durkan said at Wednesday's briefing. "Seattle hills are notoriously awful, and the snow has great impacts here, particularly if it's wet first and then freezes."

Sam Zimbabwe is director of the Seattle Department of Transportation. He says workers can't be everywhere at once, but they will be at the ready 24/7.

“We’ve worked with hospitals and emergency services to ensure that critical safety routes are cleared as soon as we are able,” he explained. “We’ve worked with Metro to address challenges in keeping transit stops available and ensured their updated routes are synced up with our plow routes.”

Due to pandemic protocols, Metro buses will continue to have reduced capacity, and Link trains will run less frequently.

Zimbabwe says in addition to snow routes for vehicles, SDOT will also clear dozens of pedestrian overpasses and stairways. He says there are also dedicated teams to clear bike lanes.

But Durkan asks that if you don't have to drive, stay off the roads. She also urges people to prepare for power outages and check on neighbors who are older or disabled. Meanwhile, Zimbabwe asks property owners to shovel their sidewalks.

The City of Seattle has opened an overnight warming shelter at Fisher Pavilion at Seattle Center. It can hold up to 78 people. Other Seattle warming centers are listed here.   

Elsewhere, Pierce County has a website set up to track road closures, snowplow routes and transit information. There is also a list of shelters. You can find all those details here.

In Thurston County, information about roads and storm response can be found here.  
The National Weather Service in Seattle says there’s still some uncertainty on just how much snow will fall — and stick — but that the entire region should prepare for at least some ground cover.

How it will play out

First, we'll see light snow showers north of Seattle and not much accumulation. A little poke on Wednesday and Thursday.

Then a second system brings heavier snow buildup from Tacoma southward starting Thursday afternoon, with lighter accumulation in Seattle. A shove.

Finally, a full wallop of snow Friday night and Saturday morning, with potential for greater snowfall across a wide range of western Washington.

The weather service keeps updating its forecast as new data is available, and you can follow the latest developments on Twitter.

Br(rrr)eezy conditions, too

An outflow from Canada’s Fraser River valley is bringing wind gusts between 30 and 40 miles per hour to the Bellingham area and the San Juan Islands. 

“The winds are kind of filtered through that gap and spill out into the Whatcom County,” said Jacob DeFlitch, a weather service meteorologist. “It brings in all this cold air.”

Overnight lows in Bellingham will be in the upper teens the next couple nights. Daytime highs will be right near the freezing mark. A wind advisory remains in effect through Friday morning.

DeFlitch says east winds will come through the Cascade gaps on Thursday and Friday, meaning some breezy conditions and cold temperatures for the foothills, and areas like North Bend and Enumclaw. 

Stay tuned to KNKX for weather updates during Morning Edition (5:30-9 a.m.) and All Things Considered (3-6 p.m.). 

Ed Ronco is a former KNKX producer and reporter and hosted All Things Considered for seven years.