SEATTLE — Seattle, a city more accustomed to rain than snow, prepared for a potentially major snow storm to hit Wednesday as the city's mayor urged residents to stay off roads and school officials prepared for the worst.
Snow has been falling steadily in various parts of western Washington and Oregon since the weekend, but meteorologists with the National Weather Service in Seattle said the biggest amounts could come on Wednesday.
Forecasts issued Tuesday morning called for about 5 to 10 inches of snow in the Seattle metropolitan area with heavier amounts expected in communities along the Interstate 5 corridor south of Seattle.
"Wednesday is going to be a good day to stay at home," said Brad Colman, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Seattle. "The road is going to be treacherous."
Street crews throughout the region were salting and sanding streets, local agencies prepared to open emergency shelters and commuters made plans to stay at home. Officials also warned of high avalanche danger in the Cascades, where between 1 to 2 feet of snow were expected.
Transportation crews closed off a section of Interstate 90 on Snoqualmie Pass, a main east-west highway in the state, for several hours Tuesday morning to control for avalanche danger.
If the past is any hint, even several inches of snow has the potential to paralyze the city of Seattle. The city owns relatively few snowplows and Seattle drivers are mostly inexperienced with driving in snow or ice.
John Lee, a graphic designer who lives in Mill Creek north of Seattle, decided to work from home Tuesday when he looked out his window and saw several inches of snow on the ground and more falling.
"Snow is beautiful to look at but it's kind of a hindrance for us to work and commute," said Lee, 23, who works in Seattle. "This is the first snow we've seen all season, so it's a bit exciting in that way. I hope it doesn't escalate to something bigger. The snowstorm is going to cause a little bit more havoc and chaos on the road."
The weather service issued a winter storm warning from Tuesday night to Wednesday night for much of Western Washington.
In Oregon, log trucks spun out on ice, school districts closed bus routes and colleges cancelled early classes. The amount of actual snowfall varied across the state, but traffic accidents and clogged roadways were the norm across a northern strip of the state that extended from the coast to the Cascades and included the northern lowlands in the Willamette Valley.
Snow has steadily been falling in Olympia since Sunday, and large snowflakes continued to fall Tuesday morning with several inches on the ground at the Capitol. At least one news conference by House Democrats was canceled Tuesday because of the weather, but several committee meetings were still being held.
Lawmakers returned to the Capitol on Jan. 9 for the 60-day legislative session.
Snow on Tuesday canceled or delayed classes in many school districts in the region.
In Portland, the city is still stinging from the fallout of a 2008 winter snowstorm that caused major traffic backups and public transportation delays. This year, the city's Bureau of Transportation spread a de-icing solution over major roadways. The solution, calcium magnesium acetate, is considered less toxic and non-corrosive.
Portland does not use rock salt to prevent ice.
"We're not expecting huge accumulations of snow," said Bureau of Transportation spokeswoman Cheryl Kuck. "But we're ready for anything."
Seattle Public Schools, the state's largest school district, is preparing to tell parents by Tuesday evening if kids will have school on Wednesday and Thursday.
"Everyone's huddled in a room trying to predict the weather," said district spokeswoman Lesley Rogers on Tuesday morning.
Rogers, who grew up in Wisconsin where snow days were unheard of, said student safety is their No. 1 concern, but the district was also getting input from the mayor.
Seattle postponed school for two hours on Tuesday, after a few inches fell over the holiday weekend.
"There's not a lot of snow, but it might hit later today," Rogers said. "It's a strange holding pattern where everybody's just monitoring the snow."