SEATTLE – A significant weekend storm disrupted plans across the Northwest U.S., blanketing parts of Washington state with snow while socking Oregon and California with rain.
Seattle-area residents woke up to a rare treat of lowland snow Sunday. Meanwhile, Portland city officials sent out a cellphone alert Sunday morning urging residents to stay indoors and avoid travel after freezing rain turned streets and sidewalks into thick sheets of ice.
The National Weather Service said the first significant storm to hit Northern California in 14 months has produced impressive amounts of rain and snow, but forecasters cautioned Sunday that it would take weeks of similar drenching to end the state’s immediate drought worries.
“This event, while it certainly isn’t going to take us out of the drought, we couldn’t have asked for a better storm,” said meteorologist Scott McGuire in Reno. “We are seeing very, very impressive rainfall and snowfall amounts.”
After subsisting on man-made snow for much of the season, Tahoe’s ski resorts gratefully embraced the more than 3 feet of new snow they got over two days, although the gift heightened the risk of avalanches.
In the Seattle area, several inches of new snow overnight brought a flurry of snowman building, sledding and other winter fun before Monday when the forecast called for rain and milder temperatures into the rest of the week.
By Sunday, nearly 3 inches fell at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, the heaviest snowfall in a single day at that location in about two years. Parts of southwest Washington got hammered with as much as 5 inches or more in south Thurston County and some parts of Lewis County.
“We don’t get this too often. People are excited,” said Josh Smith, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Seattle.
Smith said temperatures are expected to rise above freezing by late Sunday.
High avalanche danger prompted officials at Mount Rainier National Park to close the gate to Paradise at Longmire on Sunday.
In Portland, about 40 flights, or less than 10 percent of the typical 500 daily flights, were canceled Sunday morning. Most flights were generally getting in and out of the airport, although with some delays, Port of Portland spokesman Steve Johnson said.
Freezing rain Saturday brought treacherous conditions to the metro area, forcing transportation officials to temporarily suspend light-rail and street car services before resuming service Sunday morning.
Julian Sabel-Dodge, 26, got a message on his cellphone Sunday morning urging him to stay indoors – the first time the city used the federal wireless alert system.
“It is a complete ice rink out there,” said Sabel-Dodge, who ventured out Sunday to take his two dogs for a walk. “It’s a good inch of ice. It’s very icy still, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to melt soon.”
Sabel-Dodge, who studies at Portland Community College, said he’ll likely stay home Monday to avoid a messy commute.
“The roads are slick. Stay put, stay safe,” city transportation spokesman Dylan Rivera said. “It’ll take a couple of days to really clear the snow.”
In central Oregon, the Deschutes County sheriff’s office is investigating whether the deaths of an elderly Sisters couple and a 61-year-old Bend man who were found in separate locations Saturday are weather related.
Parts of the northern San Francisco Bay Area saw sizable amounts of rain along with flash flood warnings. By Sunday, the community of Woodacre, which has the highest base elevation in Marin County, received more than 10 inches of rain since the storm moved in Friday, while downtown San Francisco got more than 2 inches, said Austin Cross, a National Weather Service forecaster meteorologist in Monterey.
The storm, powered by a warm, moisture-packed system from the Pacific Ocean known as a Pineapple Express, was expected to bring more rain Sunday before moving east.
In other parts of the West, forecasters on Sunday warned of avalanche conditions across much of Colorado’s high country as snow continues to fall in the region. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center issued the warning for most of the central and northern mountains through midday Monday.
Associated Press writer Lisa Leff contributed to this report from San Francisco.