Clallam walloped by wintry weather
School closures, collisions follow heavy snowfall
By Ariel Hansen
Sequim Gazette Staff writer
Across Clallam County, refrigerators were still full of Thanksgiving leftovers when the snow began to fall, stretching what was a long weekend for most into an even longer weekend for many.
Throughout Sunday afternoon and into the night, the flakes settled quietly on streets and fields. By Monday morning, schools from Sequim to Joyce had cancelled classes for the day, to the delight of families who took the opportunity to build snowmen, a snow mermaid and even a snow elk. Schools remained closed on Tuesday.
In the first lowland snowfall of the season, driving proved treacherous, with a dozen cars spinning out on the Morse Creek S-curves alone Sunday afternoon.
Reports of rollovers and vehicles in ditches continued to come in to emergency responders through Monday, while workers toiled to clear streets, roads and sidewalks.
Measured in downtown Sequim, a ruler sank more than six inches into the snow before hitting bottom Monday evening, with flakes still falling. If confirmed, this would beat all but one record for single-day snowfalls since 1989, the exception being a 25-inch pileup on New Year’s Eve, 1996.
“Surprising’s a good word,” said Dennis D’Amico, meteorologist from the National Weather Service office in Seattle. “This is more of an unusual event.”
It took two atypical weather patterns to bring Sequim the snow – a low-pressure system that brought cold arctic air from the Canadian interior and winds that blew from the north, rather than the usual east-west pattern.
D’Amico forecast that, after a day of chilly but clear on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday would bring rain rather than more snow.
“This is a bit tricky because it’s going to be a warmer, Pacific-influenced storm,” he said. “Friday and through the weekend we’re talking about liquid precipitation.”
Overall, he said, climatologists expect this winter to be warmer and drier than average, thanks to El Niño influences.
The city responds
With a foot or more of snow weighing down spots west of Sequim, warm and dry was what everyone hoped to be. Not all peninsula residents had the luxury of wood fires and hot cocoa, however.
“Just be aware that it’s not just animals, stray dogs and cats, but there are people trying to survive in this,” said Kathy Wahto, director of Serenity House. “It’s a long-term situation that’s really needed, ways to connect people to housing.”
Beds are available in temporary and emergency shelters in Port Angeles, but no formal place exists in Sequim for the homeless to spend a night. Sequim police are aware of at least one man who, said police spokeswoman Maris Turner, has chosen not to take advantage of social services and sleeps on city streets.
With temperatures dropping, police officers offered, and the man accepted, quarters to dry his clothing at a Laundromat and a thermal emergency blanket.
Police responded to several cars in ditches within the city limits and a few malicious mischief calls, including a snowball that broke out a window, Turner said.
Other city workers put in overtime in response to the snow, including a 10-person crew from the City of Sequim that began clearing streets Sunday afternoon.
Monday started at 4 a.m. for these workers, who used the city’s plows and backhoes on the main arteries first.
“Our crew’s working long and hard and they’re doing the best they can to stay in front of the traffic,” said Jeff Edwards, office manager for Sequim Public Works. ”We are going to stay on it until we make sure we have sand or deicer down everywhere.”
Although streets may appear clear of snow, drivers should still be aware of ice, particularly in the cold early morning hours.
Drive slowly if at all
“First of all, people need to not be in a hurry and buckle up,” Turner said. “Don’t tailgate, because it takes about nine times longer to stop on rain, snow or ice.
Brake slowly and don’t make any sudden moves.”
Washington State Patrol spokesman Brian George advised that drivers should call 5-1-1, the travel information line, or visit the state Department of Transportation’s Web page for updated road conditions. He asked that only emergency calls be made to 9-1-1.
“If you wake up in the morning and you see snow or even thick ice on the roadways, only drive if you absolutely have to. I would encourage everybody to delay their plans until we can get the roadways cleaned up and deiced,” George said.
He reminded drivers that if law enforcement responds to a spinout, the driver will be cited for not maintaining control of the vehicle. Drivers should also remain with their vehicles if the vehicle becomes disabled or is involved in a collision, Turner and George said.
As in work zones, drivers should be particularly cautious in areas where there are already spun-out cars and law enforcement, tow trucks or snowplows are on the scene.
“What troopers are finding is when one vehicle crashes that causes a chain reaction,” George said. “The problem with that is when first responders or troopers arrive on scene we’re working outside our vehicles and we don’t want people speeding up on us.”
Emergency homeless shelter seeking volunteers
People and animals need community outreach
By Ariel Hansen
Take a look outside and one thing is immediately obvious: it’s cold out there, and not an ideal time or place to spend the night without shelter.
Some Clallam County residents don’t have much of a choice, say the social service providers who are trying to find places for these people.
“The single adult shelter still has overflow room,” said Kathy Wahto, director of Serenity House. “There’s a roof and there’s food and it’s warm.”
A new emergency shelter for the homeless, housed at the Dream Center in Port Angeles, also has a warm place for people to stay, but barely enough volunteers to keep the doors open overnight.
“We can’t provide the shelter if we don’t have volunteers,” said Mike Svec, program director at the Dream Center and volunteer coordinator for the emergency shelter. “It’s one of the few programs out there that all you’re really asking for is someone’s time.”
The emergency shelter was started on Nov. 2, and has since offered a warm, dry place to sleep and snacks for 31 people, some of them for more than one night.
The busiest night the shelter has had was Thanksgiving, when 14 homeless people sought refuge and a kind face.
The people who have used the shelter vary in age and in circumstance, and Svec said most have jobs that simply don’t pay enough to sustain housing.
“When someone asks you to wake them up at 4:30 in the morning so that they can go work the next day out in the weather, to me that says something about people who don’t want to be in this situation at all,” Svec said. “When I look in the mirror, I see the same individuals who come down here. It could be me.”
People aren’t the only creatures struggling to get out of the cold. Stray cats and dogs also are seeking sustenance and a place to stay dry and warm.
“If people find a stray, take them in and get them out of the weather if it’s possible,” said John Miles, president of the Clallam County Humane Society board.
“We’re going to have some below-freezing weather, so if people can even put them in a garage it would be better than being out in the snow.”
Miles said the Humane Society has traps that can be used to capture strays and always welcomes stray animals brought to their Port Angeles shelter.
Clallam County Emergency Management offers the following tips during snow advisories:
• Listen to the radio, television or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather radio for weather reports and emergency information.
• Conserve fuel, if necessary, by keeping residences cooler than normal. Temporarily close off heat to some rooms.
• If the pipes freeze, remove insulation and wrap the pipes in rags. Completely open all faucets and pour hot water over the pipes starting where they were most exposed to the cold.
• Maintain ventilation when using kerosene heaters to avoid build-up of toxic fumes.
• Refuel heaters outside and keep them at least 3 feet from all flammable objects.
• Clear debris from rain gutters to allow drainage of melting snow.
• Clear flat roofs of accumulated snow to prevent collapse. Check roof drains to ensure they are clear of debris and allow free flow of draining water.
For weather information, visit www.wrh.noaa.gov.
For information on road and driving conditions, the Washington State Patrol requests no non-emergency calls to 9-1-1. Instead, please visit the Washington Department of Transportation Web site at www.wsdot.wa.gov or call 5-1-1, the travel information hotline.
For more information about the emergency shelter or to volunteer, call Mike Svec at 452-2883 or Serenity House at 452-7224. The Clallam County Humane Society can be reached at 457-8206 or 24 hours at 452-5226.