When Jefferson County’s Emergency Management team posted a severe winter weather warning Sunday afternoon, it looked like the first snow of 2020 was going to wallop Jefferson County with heavy snow and all the driving hazards and power outages that come with a blizzard.
But the first two days of the storm proved patchy instead of widespread, although forecasters say more snow is on its way and snow was falling steadily as The Leader went to press Tuesday.
According to Monte Reinders, director of Jefferson County Public Works, there was upwards of six inches of snow in certain areas of the county by Jan. 13, with Thorndyke and Coyle receiving the most snowfall.
County road crews worked through the night to ensure county roads were clear.
“The crews will have round-the-clock coverage for the next few days to manage the slippery road conditions,” Reinders said in an email. “Even without snow, the freezing temperatures coupled with moisture on the roads is the issue we have to deal with.”
The next few days could see highs at around freezing and lows in the low 20s to teens, he added.
“The application of salt pre-wetted with deicer and sand depending on the area is the preferred treatment during these conditions,” Reinders said.
The county roads department establishes work shifts so that the roads are kept clear and free of ice 24/7.
Port Townsend and Chimacum Schools operated on a delayed-start schedule Jan. 14, while Quilcene and Brinnon operated normally.
But Brinnon School District had operated Monday, Jan. 13 on a two-hour delayed start due to snowy conditions that hindered buses in the early morning hours, said Amanda Hough, administrative assistant.
While areas closer to the Hood Canal only experienced a light dusting, she said, farther inland up the river valley experienced two to three inches of snowfall.
Neighboring counties caught the worst of the early days of the storm.
On the Kitsap side of the Hood Canal Bridge, State Route 3 was an icy mess after more than eight inches fell Sunday night, requiring snowplows to open the way for people picking their way through spinouts and cars stuck on hills as they headed back to Jefferson County for the workweek.
But the Jefferson County end of the Hood Canal bridge was relatively snow-free, with traffic moving west on State Route 104 at normal rates until hitting Clallam County, where Undersheriff Ron Cameron reported the Seattle office of the National Weather Service contacted him directly to warn of a possible repeat of last year’s heavy snows.
Sure enough, by Tuesday the snowfall had settled in at Port Angeles, dumping about 8 inches, which slowed traffic at several points along the main east-west artery of the Olympic Peninsula, with more predicted Tuesday night and Wednesday, Jan. 15.
Cold air coming down the Fraser River in British Columbia flows across the Strait of Juan de Fuca, setting up hard-to-forecast weather patterns.
Meteorologists are predicting sub-freezing weather all week and warn it’s possible we’ll get more snow Wednesday or Thursday.
Because snow has been light, it has not affected the power grid, said Will O’Donnell, public information officer for the Jefferson County PUD, but heavy winds have knocked out power in recent days.
“Our crews are ready to respond if needed,” he said. “Most of our storm prep happens in the fall. We stock up on inventory, fuel, and make sure all repairs are taken care of.”
Meanwhile, new infrastructure has made dealing with power outages from windstorms easier than ever, he said.
“Over the last 10 days, we’ve had a number of wind events push through the region,” he said. “We’ve invested a lot in infrastructure upgrades the last few years, and I think we saw some of the payoff in this last batch of windstorms. Outages were limited and restored quickly.”
The first batch of outages started Jan. 3. On Jan. 4, more than 3,000 customers were without power. Crews worked non-stop through Jan. 5 to restore power, O’Donnell said.
On Jan. 10, 1,800 customers were without power, but it was restored in a few hours, he said.
“Almost all outages were caused by high winds blowing trees or branches onto lines,” O’Donnell said.