By PHUONG LE
SEATTLE (AP) — A significant weekend storm disrupted plans across the Northwest U.S., blanketing parts of Washington state with snow, socking Oregon and California with rain and contributing to the deaths of three people.
On Sunday, Seattle-area residents woke up to rare lowland snow. In Portland, city officials sent out a cellphone alert Sunday morning urging residents to stay indoors and avoid travel after freezing rain turned streets and sidewalks into thick sheets of ice. As a result, parts of Oregon and Washington were bracing for a treacherous Monday morning commute.
The National Weather Service says the first significant storm to hit Northern California in 14 months has produced impressive amounts of rain and snow, but forecasters cautioned Sunday that it would take weeks of similar drenching to end the state’s immediate drought worries.
“This event, while it certainly isn’t going to take us out of the drought, we couldn’t have asked for a better storm,” said meteorologist Scott McGuire in Reno. “We are seeing very, very impressive rainfall and snowfall amounts.”
After subsisting on man-made snow for much of the season, Lake Tahoe’s ski resorts gratefully embraced the more than 3 feet of new snow they got over two days, although the gift heightened the risk of avalanches.
In central Oregon, the Deschutes County sheriff’s office was investigating three storm-related deaths, including that of a 61-year-old Bend man who collapsed while shoveling snow outside his home. An elderly couple was also found Saturday buried in snow, and authorities believe they were walking through heavy snow on an unplowed driveway to their home.
Officials in the Portland, Ore., and southwest Washington areas warned of an icy Monday morning commute as the National Weather Service on Sunday afternoon issued a freezing rain advisory for the region from 4 a.m. to noon.
Several school districts in both states announced another day of closures for Monday after many schools shuttered Friday, and some government offices are opening two hours later than usual.
“We expect it will be a slushy morning commute,” Portland transportation spokesman Dylan Rivera said Sunday.
In the Seattle area, several inches of new snow overnight brought a flurry of snowman-building, sledding and other winter fun before Monday when the forecast called for rain and milder temperatures into the rest of the week.
By Sunday, nearly 3 inches fell at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, the heaviest snowfall in a single day at that location in about two years. Parts of southwest Washington got hammered with as much as 5 inches or more in south Thurston County and some parts of Lewis County.
“We don’t get this too often. People are excited,” said Josh Smith, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Seattle.
Smith said temperatures are expected to rise above freezing by late Sunday.
High avalanche danger prompted officials at Mount Rainier National Park to close the gate to Paradise at Longmire on Sunday.
In Portland, about 40 flights, or less than 10 percent of the typical 500 daily flights, were canceled Sunday morning. Most flights were generally getting in and out of the airport though with some delays, Port of Portland spokesman Steve Johnson said.
Freezing rain Saturday brought treacherous conditions to the metro area, forcing transportation officials to temporarily suspend light-rail and street car services before resuming service Sunday morning.
Julian Sabel-Dodge, 26, got a message on his cellphone Sunday morning urging him to stay indoors — the first time the city used the federal wireless alert system.
“It is a complete ice rink out there,” said Sabel-Dodge, who ventured out Sunday to take his two dogs for a walk. “It’s a good inch of ice. It’s very icy still, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to melt soon.”
Sabel-Dodge, who studies at Portland Community College, said he’ll likely stay home Monday to avoid a messy commute.
Parts of the northern San Francisco Bay Area saw sizable amounts of rain, along with flooding, downed trees and power outages. By late Sunday, the Sonoma County town of Guerneville received more than 15 inches of rain since the storm moved in Thursday, while downtown San Francisco got more than 3 inches, said Bob Benjamin, a National Weather Service forecaster in Monterey.
The storm, powered by a warm, moisture-packed system from the Pacific Ocean known as a Pineapple Express, was expected to bring more rain Sunday before moving east.
In other parts of the West, forecasters on Sunday warned of avalanche conditions across much of Colorado’s high country as snow continues to fall in the region. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center issued the warning for most of the central and northern mountains through midday Monday.
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