Storm causes problems across the Pacific Northwest
SEATTLE (AP) - The powerful Pacific Northwest storm that swelled Oregon rivers and left Washington state coated in ice that brought much of the state to a standstill was supposed to taper off Friday, but a rainy weekend forecast meant flooding worries would continue for some time.
The unusually strong system temporarily shut down Seattle's airport Thursday and knocked down so many trees state patrol troopers brought chainsaws in their cruisers to hack through the obstacles.
It also left three people dead: a mother and her 1-year-old boy, killed after torrential rain swept away a car from an Oregon grocery store parking lot; and an elderly man fatally injured by a falling tree as he was backing an all-terrain vehicle out of a backyard shed near Seattle.
The snow kept falling Thursday evening in western Washington and was not expected to stop until early Friday, but familiar rain is on its way, according to the National Weather Service.
"The better news is that we have a regular Pacific front coming in tomorrow with highs in the 40s," meteorologist Dennis D'Amico said Thursday.
Oregon should see a break in the rainfall for some hours before another front comes in, said meteorologist Paul Tolleson in Portland.
"We'll have decent fronts for the next 24 to 36 hours. It'll be just enough rain to make people nervous," he said.
The region hoped to clean up after two days of wind, snow and ice. More than 50 downed trees on railroad tracks and the threat of more falling forced Amtrak officials to close service between Portland and Seattle on Thursday morning. the closure continued Friday.
Officials in Spokane declared a snow emergency, banning parking along arterials and bus routes beginning Thursday evening. The City of Seattle asked people to get home before dark if possible, fearing even worse icing conditions by nightfall. And authorities told pedestrians to be extra careful on sidewalks and to look out for "falling ice from trees, buildings and power lines."
The State Patrol said it had responded to about 2,300 accidents in a 24-hour period ending at 9 a.m. Thursday, roughly quadruple the average number.
The National Weather Service said the last widespread freezing rain in Seattle was in December 1996.
Elsewhere, the state Transportation Department closed one highway for much of Thursday because of falling trees that also took out power lines. The Seattle Times reported late Thursday night that about 250,000 customers were without power in several counties in the Seattle area. Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire declared a state of emergency, authorizing the use of National Guard troops if necessary.
The weather system brought heavy snows to Washington's Mt. Rainier and four people were reported missing. A search was suspended at nightfall but was to resume Friday, officials said.
Farther south, near Reno, Nev., winds gusting up to 82 mph pushed a fast-moving brush fire south out of control on Thursday as it burned several homes, threatened dozens more and forced thousands to evacuate their neighborhoods.
In Washington, ice closed Sea-Tac Airport completely in the early morning Thursday before one runway was reopened. Lines hundreds of people long snaked around nearly every ticket counter at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, with many passengers on their cellphones as they tried furiously to rebook their flights.
Reader boards showed the vast majority of flights canceled or delayed. All three runways reopened by Thursday evening, but the backlog from the earlier disruption was going to take a while to clear.
Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air canceled 310 flights to and from Seattle Thursday and Alaska Air said it was canceling 50 flights on Friday.
Sarah Slack and her daughters, 9-year-old Jayda and 6-year-old Jaycee, were at the airport Thursday, trying to get to Disneyland for Jaycee's 7th birthday on Saturday. A connecting flight was cancelled, and it looked like the family from Puyallup wouldn't be able to get out until Friday evening. Jayda tried to take things in stride. "Our flight got cancelled....so we have to go tomorrow," she said.
Oregon State climatologist Kathie Dello said the Hawaiian "Pineapple Express" is responsible for the wet weather. The system is creating a fire hose-like effect, dumping a concentrated stream of Pacific moisture on a small area in the western Willamette Valley.
Another Willamette Valley town, Scio, contended with floodwaters and many residents were being evacuated as the city manager said water was pouring down Main Street.
Officials in the city of Turner have issued a voluntary evacuation order to residents, asking them to flee to higher ground as floodwaters from the rising Mill Creek swept through town.
To the west of Oregon's Coast Range, residents were being moved out of Mapleton, with a population of about 900.
In Albany, rising water from heavy rains swept a car carrying four people into an overflowing creek on Wednesday night. Two people escaped, but one child's body was recovered early Thursday morning, and family members in the afternoon located his mother's body, authorities said.
A witness said that the car was sucked into a culvert.
Near Issaquah, Wash., a man in his 60s backing an all-terrain vehicle out of a shed was killed by a falling tree, King County sheriff's Sgt. Cindi West said.
Karina Shagren, a spokeswoman for Gregoire, said even though an emergency declaration has been issued, the National Guard has not been called up. Shagren said what sparked the proclamation was concern over truck drivers carrying dairy products not being able to drive more than 12 hours a day due to federal regulations.
Freight train operations were suspended by BNSF Thursday between Tacoma and Centralia. Large trees continued to fall, creating a safety hazard, said spokesman Gus Melonas, adding that regular service was not expected until Friday afternoon.
In a Tacoma apartment complex, 25-year-old Sam Doyle woke up to see a 40-foot tree on his Subaru Impreza, now with two busted windows and a caved in roof.
"It handles great in the snow but the snow ended up taking it out in the end," he said. "It could be worse. It could have been a person that got hit."
Cooper reported from Albany, Ore. Associated Press writers Doug Esser, Ted Warren, Shannon Dininny, Rachel La Corte, Nigel Duara and Nicholas K. Geranios contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)