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Snowstorm batters Whidbey Island

A snowmobile rider makes his way up George Drive in Scatchet Head while a woman walking a dog slowly follows the same route. Roadways on the South End turned treacherous after a midweek storm hit the Puget Sound. - Brian Kelly / The Record
A snowmobile rider makes his way up George Drive in Scatchet Head while a woman walking a dog slowly follows the same route. Roadways on the South End turned treacherous after a midweek storm hit the Puget Sound.
— image credit: Brian Kelly / The Record

It was so bad, even Santa stayed home.

The second snowstorm in less than a week hammered Whidbey Island

Thursday, causing a string of accidents on snow-slickened roadways,

closing schools for two days and leaving many stranded across the

South End.

The storm, which left Puget Sound a frigid mess as major highways were shut down, followed a weekend snowstorm that made ice rinks out of South End roads and caused 70 accidents.

Weather experts said the storm was caused by a cold air front from

Canada that crept over the Rocky Mountains and, combined with Puget

Sound’s maritime moisture, dumped snow across the region.

Multiple car crashes

County agencies were kept busy by the snow.

An Island County Sheriff’s deputy was uninjured when his patrol car

fishtailed, went over an embankment and rolled onto its side on Bush

Point Road near the intersection of Mutiny Bay Road on Wednesday night.

Deputy John Sawyer of the South Whidbey precinct was eastbound on Bush

Point Road “in extremely hazardous conditions” when the accident

occurred, Sheriff Mark Brown said Thursday.

He said the car had some cosmetic damage, its passenger-side window

was broken and its airbag was deployed.

Brown said that more than 70 vehicle collisions and accidents had been

reported to the sheriff’s office in the county since Tuesday.

None involved serious injuries, he said.

“We had a lot of blocking disables,” Brown said. “When the soft snow

layer on top starts to freeze, that’s where ice comes into play.”

“Anybody who doesn’t have to go some place, stay home,” Brown

cautioned. “Any unnecessary trips should be canceled.”

Island County Fire District 3 received a few minor traffic reports

during the storm, but nothing significant, Vicki Lange, district

spokesperson, said Thursday.

“We’re not being inundated with calls,” she said. “The problem is

there’s no mobility.”

Meanwhile, Santa’s fire-truck tour through South End neighborhoods is

on day-to-day status, Lange said. The tour was cancelled for Wednesday

and Thursday nights. Road conditions by Friday afternoon were to

determine the fate of Friday’s tour, she said.

“We don’t want anybody to get hurt,” she said. “Especially not the

kids and Santa.”

Island shut down

The snow prompted closure of all South Whidbey schools on Thursday and

Friday.

District Superintendent Fred McCarthy said the school board will

determine how students will make up the lost time. The current school

year ends on Tuesday, June 16, and McCarthy favors extending the year

to Friday, June 19.

“The other option is to shorten winter or spring breaks, but I don’t

feel that’s fair to those families who made plans,” he added.

The first Cascade Conference boys and girls home basketball games on

Friday against the Coupeville Wolves were cancelled, athletic director

John Patton said late Thursday. The planned wrestling tournament

scheduled for today at Lakewood was also cancelled, he said.

The initial blast of snow over the weekend left many streets hazardous

earlier this week.

When more snow started to fall midweek, Island Transit was forced to

cancel bus service in many areas across Whidbey, including routes that

serve Langley and Oak Harbor.

Many meetings were also canceled due to the snow, including a public

hearing by the Island County Planning Commission on Camano Island and

the Langley Chamber of Commerce meeting on Thursday.

More snow on Thursday caused additional cancellations.

In Freeland, the live nativity pageant at Trinity Lutheran Church was

cancelled for Friday night, and probably will be for tonight, too,

Pastor Jim

Lindus said Friday.

A determination hadn’t been made at The Record’s press time.

“Our parking lot’s a mess, and it’s too cold,” Lindus said. “My guess

is we’re not going to have it either night.”

The outdoor show was to feature actors playing the roles, as well as

live animals, including alpacas dressed to look like camels, a mule

and sheep, plus 20 new costumes sewn by Sharon Reide and Elaine Jones,

which are currently displayed in the church‘s lobby. But no live baby,

Lindus said.

The event was to include Gospel readings of the Christmas story,

cookies and hot chocolate.

“If it’s 22 degrees, people aren’t going to come,” he said. “I guess

‘cancelled’ is the word for much of this holiday season.”

Many people decided to ride out the snowy weather at home.

The Island County Sheriff’s Office said only about five minor non-

injury accidents were reported between 5 p.m. Thursday and 10 a.m.

Friday.

Island County Fire District 3 responded to only two medical calls

between Thursday evening and Friday morning.

So far, the snowy weather has had no effect on Puget Sound Energy’s

electric system that serves South Whidbey.

“We did have some small, scattered outages in Skagit County due to the

snow,” said spokeswoman Dorothy Bracken. “We’ve been keeping an eye

out, especially when the temperature drops well below freezing.”

Island County assistant engineer Randy Brackett said the county’s

plows and sanders tried to focus on main roads and intersections.

“The best thing is for people to stay off the roads, have some hot

chocolate and enjoy the winter,” he said, warning that even streets

that had been sanded had solid ice underneath the fresh snowfall.

Sheriff Brown agreed.

He cautioned drivers to use chains or snow tires, to slow down and to

allow plenty of room between vehicles. He said to approach

intersections slowly, and prepare to stop long before reaching them.

Mail gets through

Despite tricky driving conditions, most of the mail was getting

through, South End postmasters said Thursday.

All carriers have made it to work so far. They have chains on their

tires and are trying to deliver as much mail as they can in Langley,

Clinton, Freeland and Greenbank, the postmasters said.

No injuries or mishaps have been reported, although there’s lots of

slipping and sliding.

“We have everybody out, and people helping with parcels,” Langley

Postmaster Jack Harrington said of his five rural routes. “We’re out

there trying.”

“We’re doing fine,” Postmaster Sharon Balter at Clinton said Thursday

of her five rural routes. “All the carriers are out there. I’ll be

glad when they get back. As far as I know, we’re making all the

deliveries.”

Postmaster Carol Avery of Freeland said Thursday that perhaps 20

percent of the day’s mail may not be delivered on her four rural

routes due to icy roads.

“We’re attempting to deliver as many things as can,” she said. “I told

them if their cars start sliding down a hill to come back with the

mail.”

“There’s a lot of sliding, but no real problems,” added Roxy Etherton,

postmaster at Greenbank. Greenbank has two rural routes.

“I was out delivering myself today. There’s not much traffic out

there,” she said.

Seen it all before

Most South Enders took the winter storm in stride.

“Some of our regulars came in this morning for coffee and a bite,”

said waitress Margaret White at Neil’s Clover Patch Café in Bayview.

“We are always happy to see them.”

Customer JT Hilton tucked into some French toast while relating his

good deed for the day.

“A lady ran her car off the road into mud and ice past Campbell Road

on the highway,” he recalled. “My friend Jeff Paul and I got

permission from the fire department to pull her out, so we did. The

State Patrol stopped, but didn’t seem to have a problem with it.”

Next door at Casey’s Red Apple Market, when asked about the weather’s

impact on his business, manager Steve Springer said the business was

ready.

“Well, duh, this is a grocery store,” he said. “We’re open for

business.”

Video rental manager Belinda Locke said her operation always spikes

when the snow hits.

“Better that folks are home watching a movie than driving the roads,”

she noted.

Rancher Mark Kelso of Freeland said he was on his way to the feed

store to buy a salt lick for his goats, sheep and pigs.

“They need it to stay hydrated in this kind of weather,” he said.

Among the many early morning unsung heroes are baristas selling hot

coffee to caffeine-challenged drivers. At the Jet Java near Ken’s

Korner, Amanda Townsend has arrived each morning at 5 a.m. from her

home in Freeland.

“Business hasn’t been too bad; of course there are fewer people on the

roads, like parents driving their kids to school,” she said Friday

morning. “And maybe it’s good folks are staying home because I’ve seen

some crazy driving out here.”

Down the highway in Clinton, librarians Gwen Goodbee and Sydney

Wolcott were busy making paper snowflakes to decorate the small, but

well-stocked Clinton Library.

“This is a place where people can come to get out of the house,”

Goodbee said, as she offered patrons cookies.

By Thursday, Ace Hardware in Freeland was running out of a few items.

“Ice melt, rock salt, heat tape for pipes, faucet covers, snow shovels

and sleds are pretty much gone,” said Kristi Ingram. “But we expect a

shipment later to stock us back up.”

She added that any product designed to help keep a house warm was in

big demand.

Protecting the home is a good idea, because forecasters are saying

there won’t be a break from the cold temperatures for several days.

Johnny Burg of the National Weather Service office in Seattle said

that a 15- to 20-mph wind could make it feel much colder.

“Bundling up would be a wise precaution if you have to leave the

house,” he said. “Better yet, don’t leave.”

Another storm system is expected to arrive late tonight or early

Sunday, with temperatures between 14 and 19 degrees or lower.

Record writer Roy Jacobson contributed to this report.

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