South Whidbey buried by massive weekend snowstorm
December 24, 2008 · Updated 11:20 AM
More snow. Just what we needed.
A massive snowstorm left South Whidbey buried over the weekend, leaving many residents snowbound for the second time in a week.
The snow started again late Saturday and continued again Sunday. Many roads on the South End were still slick from frozen ice and snow from last week’s snowstorm, which closed schools for three days and brought Whidbey to a sliding stop.
On the road again
But snow-packed roads didn’t deter people from venturing out to get the essentials. For many, it was a Christmas tree from Bayview Farm & Garden. Pressed logs were also in big demand, as well as cracked corn for deer, animal feed and other supplies.
Eric Studebaker, nursery manager at Bayview Farm & Garden, said there was a constant stream of customers.
“It was crazy,” he said.
By this time last year, the business had already sold out its stock of Christmas trees. But with the bad weather earlier this month, they still had plenty of trees left on the lot and decided to have a half-price sale.
Many people braved the weather to get a deal, despite warnings of a big windstorm, more snow and potential power outages.
Maureen Murphy, owner of Bayview Farm & Garden, recalled a man who came in and bought two trees. He paid half price for one, then insisted on paying full price for the other because he’d heard about the good things the business had done in the community.
“It nearly brought a tear to my eye,” Murphy said.
Late Saturday, as workers were locking up the business to go home, two frantic teens came in. They had hitchhiked to Bayview, with money their mother had given them for a Christmas tree. They begged employees to keep the business open so they could get a tree.
“What are you going to do, say ‘Go home!’ like Bob Cratchit?” Murphy laughed, recalling the embattled character of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”
Employees looked around until they found a tree the pair could take home easily — a smaller incense cedar — and the teens departed with the tree in tow.
The show goes on
The staff, crew and cast at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts in Langley knew better than to underestimate Mother Nature.
It was only two years ago when the power outages of 2006 threatened to close down “Little Women,” but in the end added a more dramatic effect to that production’s 19th century set with candles lining the stage.
Likewise, the closing-night performance of “Inspecting Carol” on Saturday night was well-attended, thanks to a company that has learned a thing or two about storms and a community that likes to gather.
“It’s always exciting when Mother Nature works against us, and the community comes together anyway,” marketing director Jason Dittmer said.
“Extra volunteers even made their way in for a worst-case scenario.”
Dittmer said some folks who couldn’t make it called and donated their tickets back to the theater.
“We had about 150 in the house,” he said, a good percentage for a 230 seat-theater during a snowstorm.
Knowing that the forecast called for continuous snowfall from late afternoon, the WICA staff took extra precautions before the 7:30 p.m. curtain.
“The old adage, ‘The show must go on’ is real,” said producing director Deana Duncan.
“We were mindful of safety, calling all our actors around 3 p.m., renting rooms in Langley — thank you, Jackie of Country Cottage of Langley — for cast and crew who were driving distances, checking the generator, shoveling and de-icing our sidewalks.”
The company even had hot coffee and spiced cider ready as the patrons started to show.
“With the snow coming down, it felt like a party,” Duncan added.
Technical director Tyler Raymond said there was only one tense moment.
“I believe the lights flickered once. But
everything was in place, just in case,” he said, including a generator that the crew had tested each night.
“We learned a lot a few winters ago while producing “Little Women,” Duncan said. “Even without electricity or heat the audience came ... so we had faith.”
Gail Liston is a Freeland business owner. She also happened to be playing one of the leads in “Inspecting Carol” and opted to stay on the South End after the show.
“I was thankful that WICA put us up at the Country Cottage because it was a bit of a white knuckler for driving,” she said.
Liston owns Vino Amore wine shop along with husband and fellow actor Brian Plebenak.
“We open at noon, but we were in Freeland earlier. There was nobody around. I don’t think the liquor store next to us is even going to bother to open,” Liston said Sunday.
She said their wine store is holding its own, but the snow has affected the normally bustling holiday business.
“Business this summer was good; the fall was down but we’re still ahead, and once everything thaws out I think we’ll do OK,” Liston said.
PayLess Foods in Freeland was maintaining its regular business hours Sunday despite the weather.
“We feel the community expects us to do that,” said assistant manager Dallis Ferguson. “If they can get out, they expect us to be open for them. We have been so far.”
He said there was a big crowd of shoppers Saturday, stocking up before the new snow started to fall, but not so many shoppers on Sunday.
Ferguson said a delivery truck from Seattle made it through Sunday, a little late.
“We still have groceries,” he said. “I hope that continues, with Christmas coming.”
The snow hurt many local businesses, some more than others.
By noon Sunday, the Shell station in Freeland was out of gas.
“The oil truck driver couldn’t get out of his driveway to get to the refinery in Anacortes,” said assistant manager Aline Baker. “They said they’ll get here when they get here.”
Baker noted that on Saturday, gas business was heavier than normal.
“I used de-icer and my comb to pry the little gas doors open, it was so cold,” she recalled. “But food sales were down because no one wanted to waste time in case the next big storm hit.”
Bad weather beyond Whidbey prevented Santa — aka Dan Schlangen — from making an appearance at a special “breakfast with Santa” that had been scheduled for Saturday at Rockhoppers in Clinton.
“Santa was stranded in Wyoming,” said Rockhoppers owner Rene Schlangen. “He had no way of getting here.”
Dan Schlangen eventually made it home from Jackson Hole via Salt Lake City, Utah, arriving in Seattle in time for Saturday’s snowstorm.
Rene Schlangen said it was an easy call to cancel the Santa event.
“The road conditions, they said, were going to be horrible,” she said.
They were. Schlangen said their truck, which has four-wheel drive, was sliding all over the road on the way in to work. Only a few people came in for breakfast, and Schlangen closed the cafe by 1 p.m.
She doubted she would reopen on Monday.
Though the weather has been bad for business, Schlangen wasn’t complaining.
“It’s Christmas; it should be white,” she said. “This is a treat.”
“We need to change our thinking a little bit. We need to sit back, relax and enjoy the snow.”
In Freeland, Betty Lehman heard the reports about the storm coming over the weekend, dropped a tarp over her car and stocked up with food. She’s been recovering from surgery last September and isn’t taking too many chances.
“I use sticks like ski poles to go down my hill to get the mail,” she said. “I shouldn’t do it, but I take it slow and easy.”
Just as the sun was setting on Friday, Marc and Christine George crossed on the ferry from Mukilteo to their second home, a cabin in the Langley woods.
“We made it just in time and are hunkered down for the duration,” Christine George said. “We made a big pot of soup with whatever we had on hand — carrots, celery, potatoes, bacon — and are staying as cozy as possible.”
She noted that the one big, and most welcome, surprise for her is that the power hasn’t failed.
Puget Sound Energy spokeswoman Gretchen Aliabadi said a few scattered, but brief, power outages had affected 50 South Whidbey customers during the weekend.
“So far, so good,” she said.
In December 2006, a Hanukkah Eve storm produced gusts up to 69 mph and power outages to thousands of South End residents. In response, PSE spent a good part of 2008 stringing
15,000 feet of insulated “tree wire” primarily along Midvale, Bayview and Brooks Hills roads. The thickly-wrapped transmission lines are designed to better withstand falling limbs.
“We stepped up vegetation management by increasing the buffer zone between trees and power lines in areas with historic problems during storms,” Aliabadi said.
Not everyone stayed cocooned in their homes.
Waitress Vanessa Melusky at the Freeland Cafe said that, though business was down, it wasn’t as bad as she expected.
“Since we opened at
6 a.m., it’s been OK; not a normal Sunday rush, but not bad,” she said.
Victoria D’Amelio’s family in Freeland decided to make a snowman. Actually, that would be snowwoman, since the frosty female was fashionably clad in a bikini and sunglasses.
“So she doesn’t worry about the glare,” D’Amelio said.
County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson ventured forth early Sunday with her husband Dave to deliver cookies to the county road crew shop in Bayview. The cookies were baked by her daughter Christine.
“We know the guys have been working very hard to keep the roads as open as possible and we just wanted to thank them,” Price Johnson said.
Candace Page, a reporter with the Burlington Free Press in Vermont, thought she’d left wintry conditions behind when she flew here to be with her family. No such luck.
“We’ve never seen a flake of snow before when we came to visit,” she said.
“I have to say, you don’t do roads well. We always keep the roads free of ice and snow back home; the ride from the airport last night was, well, interesting,” Page said.
She added that the family was headed off to tour Whidbey Island and see the sights.
Jason and Petra Walker were out for an early-morning stroll.
“It’s a winter wonderland out here and so silent,” Petra Walker said. “It’s like the world is wrapped in cotton.”
Ravenelle from Langley was getting a little cabin fever, so she donned sturdy snow boots for a walkabout at Bayview Corner.
“I’m doing videos for my mother,” she explained.
“I am so in my own space out here this morning.”
Inside at the Star Store deli, Christine Schoeler made a smaller than usual pot of clam chowder Sunday morning.
“We’re not expecting a lot of people, but we’re open and want to be ready for whoever shows up,” she said. Her husband, Bob, volunteered to clear a path so customers could make it inside the store.
“Gene and Tamar Felton do a lot for the community, and I thought it would be good to make the place a little more user-friendly,” he said.
Many opt out
Many area churches were forced to close.
Unitarian Universalist Congregation administrator Mavis Cauffman said that it was better to be safe than sorry. The church just north of Freeland canceled its Sunday service, an intergenerational presentation of “The Spirit of the Christmas Tree.”
“We would have felt terrible if one of our congregation had an accident,” she said.
St. Augustine’s in-the-Woods in Freeland closed as well, despite a valiant effort to stay open on Saturday. The morning service for Sunday was postponed to the afternoon, and volunteers cleared two tracks to the parking lot and put down salt.
All services were canceled after pipes in the church froze, however.
With warmer temperatures expected later in the week, the congregation’s pastor said Christmas Eve services would continue as planned.
“We have a very steep driveway,” said pastor Nigel Taber-Hamilton. “With this unprecedented weather, it was felt best to cancel. But our holiday carols and services start at 5 p.m. Wednesday and the snow should be gone by then.”
Sunday services at Trinity Lutheran Church in Freeland were also cancelled Sunday.
“I’m here in my office at the church at 4:30 a.m., but you shouldn’t be,” Pastor Jim Lindus said on his telephone answering machine. “After fighting with the snow and doing some shoveling, we decided to call off the services.”
Christmas Eve services are still scheduled for 5,
8 and 10 p.m. on Wednesday.
The special music program at St. Hubert Catholic Church in Langley was cancelled Sunday afternoon, but the church held mass at 8 a.m.
Few venture out
Ben and Erin Morgan came by Bayview on Sunday afternoon to pick out a Christmas tree. It was the second one this season.
The first was kept outside, but was too covered with snow to bring indoors.
“We got a live one but it froze,” he said.
Ben Morgan said the couple’s Mazda Protegé made it to Bayview just fine from the snow-packed roads of Scatchet Head, thanks to the vehicle’s studded tires.
“It’s the first time we’ve had to use them,” he said, adding that the seven-mile or so journey wasn’t too remarkable.
“The biggest thing is watching out for all the other yahoos,” he said. “I had one guy pull right out in front of me. I almost T-boned him.”
Snow piles up
Nearly seven inches of snow, more in some places, fell on South Whidbey Sunday night and Monday morning, according to the National Weather Service in Seattle.
About six inches were reported in Oak Harbor overnight. Coupeville had an added five or six inches overnight.
A foot of snow fell on Bayview Sunday night, with about half that much reported in some areas on Scatchet Head.
Elsewhere in the Puget Sound region, overnight snowfall ranged from three inches in Federal Way to more than nine inches in Snohomish, meteorologist Johnny Burg said Monday morning.
As much as 13 inches were reported around Hood Canal and in Mason County, Burg said.
“I’ve heard this is the worst storm since 1990,” Burg said of the prolonged period of snow and cold. “This is definitely historic.”
Island Transit canceled bus service until further notice Monday morning because of weather conditions.
Many streets were hazardous for drivers due to packed snow and ice on the roadways, and Highway 525 was covered with a thick coating of slush and snow.
A cautious drive down Highway 525 from the central part of the island Monday revealed lots more snowy white beauty, but little in the way of fellow drivers. Only a few cars were seen between points south of Coupeville and Freeland. Even fewer cars on the road were moving slowly because of the road conditions.
Some drivers were ignoring traffic signals on Highway 525 Monday morning, and passing through red lights without slowing down.
Even as Island Transit shut down Monday, county road crews are working hard to stay ahead of the curve.
“We made the decision to stop all bus routes at 3 a.m. Monday,” said Island Transit operations manager Shawn Harris.
“There’s lots of hard-packed ice under six to eight inches of snow and the South End is the worse. We don’t want our drivers and passengers to be put in a dangerous situation,” he said.
Harris said that a limited shopping route was utilized in Oak Harbor on Saturday. “We ran buses to the Wal-Mart and other shopping centers and a lot of folks took advantage of the service.”
Island County Public Works Director Bill Oakes said every piece of machinery he has was put on the road. The county has four road shops with five plows per shop.
“Crews have been out all weekend, and the wind wasn’t as bad as predicted, so that helped,” he said. “They’re working long hours to try and keep roads clear.”
Oakes added that, at night, each truck has a county employee riding shotgun in order to keep a log, operate the sander and help the driver when he has to back up.
“The snow was heavy and wet, and so we’re dealing with downed trees and some power lines,” he said.
County offices in Coupeville were open Monday, although the assessor’s office was working with a reduced staff after non-essential employees were told to stay home.
Despite the heavy overnight snowfall, the Island County Sheriff’s Office reported little activity.
“There were lots of calls about vehicles in ditches, some trees down and abandoned cars, but nothing major and no injuries,”
Sgt. Mike Beech said Monday morning from Coupeville.
Meanwhile, the South Precinct office in Freeland responded to four minor accidents since Friday afternoon, but no injuries were reported through Sunday, said Sgt. Russ Lindner.
Most of the other calls were about drivers who had slid off the road, and cars that were abandoned at the side of the road and thought to be traffic hazards, Lindner said.
“The motoring public has been doing fairly well,” he said. “They anticipated the weather and have been driving accordingly. I hope that continues.”
He urged drivers to be mindful of the slippery conditions and to slow down.
Burg, of the National Weather Service’s Seattle office, said another offshore storm, this one milder, is expected to move into the area Wednesday, with some wind, rain, snow and mixed temperatures.
Temperatures should range in the 30s to low 40s Wednesday, dipping below freezing in some areas Wednesday night, Burg said.
Christmas Day temperatures are expected to be in the mid-30s, with rain or mixed rain and snow.
Friday is expected to be the same, then rain and temperature in the 40s should arrive Saturday, Burg said.
Jeff VanDerford, Patricia Duff and Roy Jacobson contributed to this report.