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Winners and losers: Western Washington’s 2019 snowstorm

A man rides a large inflatable pool float down a hill at Seattle's Gas Works Park after a large storm blanketed Western Washington with snow on Feb. 9, 2019. (David Ryder, Getty Images)

The worst snowstorm in many years hit Western Washington over the past week, and that was after a handful of other snow events leading up to it. As the snow piled on — bringing much of the region to a halt — some fared better than others.

Indeed, there were certainly winners and losers amid the snowy mess. Below average temperatures will continue through February, so there may be updates to this list.

Snowstorm winners

  • Seattle snow plows: Seattle’s 35 snow plows finally got their day in the … overcast sky. They were operated on 12-hour shifts, constantly keeping main routes free from snow and ice, along with trucks spreading salt. Aside from some disruptions, Seattle’s main routes, I-5, and highways were decent for driving every day. Seattle doesn’t have a lot of snow plows, compared to other cities. But it did a lot with what it had.
  • Downtown Seattle: If there is proof that Seattle cares about one neighborhood more than all others, the snow plow route proved it. Downtown was not longing for attention. While many residential streets were left to fend for themselves, trapping cars and people, downtown Seattle’s streets were constantly kept clear. Snow didn’t have a chance there.
  • Stores / bread companies: There are no hard numbers. But it was apparent to anyone attempting to stock up on goods before the snowstorm hit — all their neighbors had the same idea. Store shelves were emptied. Anecdotally, people seemed to notice a few items were picked through first, such as all the bread in Western Washington.MyNorthwest
  • The tunnel: When the tunnel opened this month (after Viadoom) one of the first things drivers noticed is the considerable backup heading north on SR99 underneath Seattle. There is still one more exit to open. Initially, however, it appeared that as traffic volumes returned to normal, the new tunnel (which has no exits, unlike the Alaskan Way Viaduct) regularly experienced backups stretching miles. But with snow hammering the region, drivers were once again kept off the road, and the tunnel ran smoothly. No backups reported.
  • Students: Snow days are part of growing up. But many kids have been robbed of that experience in recent years. Well, nature made up for that over the past week. Schools closed across the region. If you had a test, an assignment due, or another scholastic deadline, you won. Hope you got some time on a sled.

Snowstorm losers

  • King County Metro bus service: The snow gave the Seattle area an important lesson — don’t put all your eggs in one basket. In this case, regional leaders have often encouraged residents to favor mass transit. But when the snow came, King County Metro severely reduced service down to 60 routes. And if riders wanted to learn anything about those routes, they had to navigate the storm that is Metro’s website. If you were lucky, you could find a PDF map — good luck with that. Or a long list of routes and jargon that didn’t speak to the lay rider. In other words, the bus system was mostly useless during the storm.

  • Anyone living on a residential road: While the region’s main roads and freeways were kept clear and moving, getting to those routes proved very difficult, if not impossible. Residential streets continued to collect snow and ice while snow plows were heard off in the distance. Even when things started to melt, these streets continued to lock down cars. So if you could get to a cleared road, that first and last mile was treacherous. And parking … forget about it.
  • Chickens: While many cars slid off area roads, perhaps the saddest incident was when a truck full of live chickens crashed into a jersey barrier on I-5 through Olympia. A gang of chickens flew the coop among the mess, yet some still found their way onto a grill — a car grill. Others ran straight into icy conditions. Washington State Patrol spent the next few hours responding to the scene, and also retrieving birds from the road.
  • Roofs: From stores, to car ports, to marinas — roofs suffered under the heavy snow. It only got worse when the rain came, which added to the weight.AP
  • People too confident in their all-wheel drive / Midwestern arrogance: Perhaps you were just too excited to see conditions fit for you Subaru or SUV; taking it to the grocery store just wasn’t providing the thrill you told yourself you would have when you got the car. Or perhaps you loved bragging about being raised in the heavy, fluffy Midwestern snow. But when you ventured out onto the ice, you probably ate crow … or snow. Here’s the thing: Northwest winter conditions are rarely forgiving. As University of Washington Climatologist Cliff Mass points out, Northwest snow is different. It usually melts on the ground first, then freezes. Then snow piles on top of that. What you end up with is akin to driving on an ice rink. Then, unlike the Midwest, you have hills upon hills. So it’s like driving on an ice rink, at a 30 degree angle. There is little that all-wheel drive, or Midwestern memories, can do to help you in that.

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