RIDING THE STORM OUT | More snow stories from this week’s big snowfall

Assistant Island County Engineer Connie Bowers said county road crews were working 24 hours each day this week, sanding and plowing as needed. At least four plows or sanders were at work in each of the county’s road shops; there are three on Whidbey Island, and one on Camano Island.

An Island County snow plow works to clear Ewing Road late Thursday. County officials expect to declare a “state of emergency” on Monday.

Assistant Island County Engineer Connie Bowers said county road crews were working 24 hours each day this week, sanding and plowing as needed. At least four plows or sanders were at work in each of the county’s road shops; there are three on Whidbey Island, and one on Camano Island.

Primary routes — roads used by main traffic and commuters — got the most immediate attention.

The county got ready early for the storm, and activated its Emergency Operations Center on Sunday.

There wasn’t one single area that got hit the worst, Bowers said.

“The first day, I think Oak Harbor got the most. The next day, Bayview.”

“It’s evened out at this point,” she said late Thursday.

As far as winter storms go, this one was bad, but not exceptionally so.

“It’s a significant weather event. It’s not the worst weather event we’ve had,” she said.

Even so, Bowers said Island County commissioners are expected to declare a “state of emergency” because of the storm Monday.

The declaration, she said, may make the county eligible to have some of the storm costs covered by outside funding.

Road closed: Too steep to sweep

In Langley, several of the city’s steepest streets were closed to traffic.

Public Works Director Challis Stringer said city crews started sanding streets on Sunday, and started plowing on Tuesday.

“We have also been starting to clean out the gutters along the street, so when this snow melts it has a travel path to the drain. If this melts fast, there may be a possibility for flooding, which we are trying to avoid by clearing out the gutters and around the drains,” she said.

Stringer said Thursday that Langley residents were “hunkering down.”

“A lot of people are being smart and staying home, while others are out with their cross-country skis or snow boots coming into town to visit the coffee shops, restaurants, post office and/or the Star Store,” she reported.

Snow days result in school delays

South Whidbey students were treated to an extended Martin Luther King Jr. holiday break. Instead of only having Monday off, snow and ice-coated roads prompted the South Whidbey School District to cancel classes all week.

“We have no snow-clearing equipment,” said District Superintendent Jo Moccia. “It’s an usual situation for me, coming from the East.”

School was supposed to resume Tuesday, Jan. 17. A major snowstorm that was predicted to hit the Puget Sound area on Wednesday arrived a day early, which led to Moccia canceling classes.

All four make-up days have not yet been scheduled. Moccia said only one rescheduled day was certain for Friday, Feb. 17.

Most likely, the other three days will be added to the end of the school year in June, which was scheduled to conclude June 15.

“Right now, the schedule is we make up the one day in February and the other three days at the end of June,” Moccia said.

“We’ll make up the days as we see fit.”

A highly-anticipated basketball match-up between South Whidbey and Coupeville was the final sports event canceled because of the weather.

Earlier in the week, the basketball games against Lakewood were canceled, the wrestling team’s trip to Bellevue Christian and its final home match were scrapped. None were rescheduled by Friday.

There was no added cost due to the cancellations. No damage to the district’s buildings was reported.

And teachers, unless some of the snow days won’t need to be covered due to the governor’s declared “state of emergency,” will work the same amount of days.

South Whidbey schools have extended the semester one week. The semester was scheduled to end Jan. 27 with a half day, and a teacher in-school day Jan. 30. Now, it will end in February to allow teachers more time to prepare their students for tests.

“There just isn’t enough time for students to take their semester exams,” Moccia said.

Using the semester break to make up for a snow day was briefly considered. It was dismissed so teachers can catch up with this semester and plan for the next one, and families that scheduled trips don’t have to cancel them.

“To ask kids to come in at this point, it’s too difficult to change the calendar,” Moccia said.

Sleds sell out at Sebo’s Hardware

Frank Parra had one regret from the snowstorm — he should have ordered more sleds.

Snow first fell on South Whidbey on Saturday. By Tuesday, every sled at Sebo’s Hardware was sold out.

“If I would have had another 1,000, I would have sold them all,” Parra said.

“People were looking to have a little fun if they weren’t working.”

Snow led to play days for some, but slow business for Sebo’s in Bayview.

“It’s been terrible,” Parra said. “From a business perspective, it’s affected it worse than ever in the past 25 years.”

Parra estimated Sebo’s had 10 percent of its normal sales and customer traffic. Sebo’s sold a couple pallets of snow-melt salt, about four dozen snow shovels and 20 or so heaters.

Things were worse at the appliance store, which went three days without a customer.

“Realistically, people were smart and didn’t go out,” Parra said.

“I wasn’t prepared for this much snow, and not from a sled standpoint. Everything else — propane, flashlights — I stocked up on that two months ago.”

Storm freezes county’s economy

How much the snowstorm will impact Island County’s economy was anybody’s guess this week.

Ron Nelson, executive director of the Island County Economic Development Council, said one way to get an estimate would be to take the county’s taxable retail sales for the first quarter of 2011 — $157 million — and divide that number by the 90 days of the quarter.

That results in a one-day estimate of $1.7 million in taxable retail sales.

“If all Island County businesses shut down due to the snow over the past two days, then the businesses lost approximately $3.4 million,” Nelson said.

“Having said that, I noticed the majority of Oak Harbor businesses were open yesterday so I’d be surprised if more than 50 percent of the businesses closed. A closer figure would be approximately $1.7 million for two days,” he added.

Empty ferries means empty till

Looking out the window of Shirley’s Kitchen at the Clinton Ferry Terminal, Shirley Wilson had one word to describe the scene.

“Horrid.”

“There’s been like a maximum of 10 cars on the dock at one time; most of the time it’s seven or less,” she said.

The customers who make their way to Shirley’s Kitchen are, by and large, travelers waiting to catch the ferry. For Wilson, an empty lot means an empty till.

“I had a total of four customers today, since eight o’clock this morning,” she added.

By late Thursday, she had sold two lattes, plus a couple of burgers and breakfast muffins. Finally, not enough was too much.

“I’m closing right now,” she said just before 3 p.m.

The first days of the storm were even worse. Wednesday, she said, there were no customers.

“And the day before, we stayed open until 1 and had one customer,” Wilson said.

Wilson said about a foot of snow had fallen near the island’s southernmost gateway.  She had a friend with four-wheel drive bring her to work.

“I have a Mazda Miata and I don’t drive when the snow is out,” she explained.

And don’t expect a cheery whistle if she has to walk in a winter wonderland.

“I just want it to go away,” she said.

Record writers Ben Watanabe and Patricia Duff contributed to this report.

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