SEATTLE — With winter half over, Puget Sound is enjoying mostly mild weather, and the region could — maybe — make it through the season without a significant snowfall.
“I don’t think we’re going to see any big producer, right now,” said meteorologist Johnny Burg with the National Weather Service office in Seattle. “But we can’t rule it out.”
The Northeast is digging out from a blizzard, but the only Seattle snow was .6 of an inch recorded on Dec. 18 at Sea-Tac Airport, Burg said Monday. It was certainly cold enough for snow in January, but often dry.
Ads for the Northwest Flower and Garden Show, Feb. 20-24 in the state Convention Center, have some residents dreaming of spring and thinking we just might make it without a whiteout. Will Seattle escape the kind of snow that closes schools, knocks out power, sends cars crashing and costs the mayor his job?
So far, snow has been falling in the right places. The Olympics and Cascades snowpack is near 100 percent — the water storage bank for drinking, irrigation, salmon survival and summer recreation. Residents of Spokane and other parts of Eastern Washington have handled their share of snow without the hysteria that grips Seattle broadcasters when snow is in the forecast.
Snow is possible in Seattle from November to March, if cold air happens to collide with one of the moist weather systems that roll like waves off the Pacific.
“It snows for a little bit until the warm air scours out the cold and turns over to rain,” Burg said.
There’s a chance of that happening in the next couple of weeks as the eight- to 14-day forecast calls for cooler temperatures and normal precipitation.
University of Washington Atmospheric Sciences Professor Cliff Mass agrees there’s still a chance, but the snow threat is coming to an end.
“After the third week of February, the chances of a major snowstorm decline rapidly,” Mass said Monday in an email. “After the first week of March, there is little chance of significant snow.”
“In short, in three weeks the threat will be over,” Mass said.
No longer salt-free
December and January are the months Seattle is most likely to have a big snow. In January 2012, a heavy snow followed by an ice storm in Western Washington brought down trees that killed one person and knocked out power for 200,000. The governor declared an emergency because of freezing rain.
In December 2008, storms dumped 14 inches of snow on the city. Many streets were impassable for days, partly because the city refused to use salt on the streets to avoid polluting Puget Sound, which is saltwater, by the way. The next spring, Mayor Greg Nickels, head of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, failed to advance past the primary.
“That was a difficult storm and a difficult winter,” said city Transportation Department spokeswoman Marybeth Turner.
Since then, the city has decided salt isn’t so bad after all and stockpiles are standing ready, Turner said. More than 30 city trucks can be equipped with plows that push when more than an inch of snow falls. Tankers roll when the temperature dips below freezing to pre-treat streets with salt brine.
Current Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn found money to embed sensors in streets to warn when roads are turning icy.
But, Seattle students haven’t had any snow days this school year. They typically have at least one or two and often four or five, said spokeswoman Teresa Wippel.
“It’s very unusual to not have a snow,” Wippel said.
It’s a big decision to send school buses out on slick hills or for the superintendent to call off classes.
Seattle typically goes without a big snow once or twice a decade, and the last winter without an episode was 2009-2010, said Burg, the meteorologist.
Transportation is the big concern for everyone who can’t stay home when the snow falls, because any Seattle driver will tell you the other drivers don’t know how to drive in snow.
“I don’t trust any of the drivers around here so I walk to work” when it snows, said Burg.