Washington Gov. Declares State of Emergency Due to Snow, Ice

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SEATTLE — Gov. Chris Gregoire has declared a state of emergency for an ice storm that landed on top of heavy snow in western Washington, causing treacherous travel, power outages and threats that buildings could collapse.

The declaration authorizes the use of the National Guard and coordination of state agencies through the Emergency Operations Center at Camp Murray.

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The National Weather Service used the Emergency Alert System to break into Thursday morning broadcasts with an ice storm warning until noon for the Seattle area and southwest Washington.

"It's a very dangerous situation," with a major impact on roads, said Brad Colman, the meteorologist in charge of the weather service office in Seattle. "We're expecting a significant impact on power."

Then there's the growing weight of ice added to snow remaining from Wednesday's storm.

"We have to worry about any infrastructure that can't bear the load," he said.

A state Transportation Department worker was injured in a crash on Interstate 405 near Interstate 5 north of Seattle, said DOT spokeswoman Jamie Holter.

He had responded about 6:45 a.m. Thursday to a collision in which one car slid into a barrier and was hit by another car. She had no details of how the worker was injured. He was taken to a Seattle hospital. The Washington State Patrol is investigating.

Freezing rain and ice pellets caused numerous accidents in the Seattle area, Holter said.

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The glaze measured a quarter- to one-half inch, said meteorologist Jeff Michalski. The last widespread snow in the Seattle area was December 1996, he said.

Ice closed Sea-Tac Airport. It reopened one of the three runways about 8 a.m. Many flights have been delayed or canceled.

The state Transportation Department closed Highway 18 near Issaquah because of falling trees.

"We pulled our crews, trying to be safe," said DOT spokeswoman Alice Fiman in Olympia. "We want to make sure all the limbs that are going to come down, come down."

Cars went spinning into ditches on many roadways.

A tractor-trailer that slid off Interstate 5 shortly after midnight blocked the northbound land and two of the southbound lanes into the morning commute. Traffic was detoured, but backed up about a mile, Fiman said.

Falling trees and tree limbs also took out power lines. Puget Sound Energy reported 90,000 outages at 9 a.m. Thursday, after crews had already brought 46,000 customers back on line since Wednesday in the area south of Seattle and around Tacoma and Olympia.

"It's like a storm in slow motion that keeps happening again and again," said PSE spokesman Roger Thompson.

Tacoma Power spokesman Randy Stearns said it had 24,000 customers out of service because of a downed transmission line. The same line had just been repaired after it was knocked by a tree in Wednesday's snow.

The ice storm warning covers Seattle, Tacoma, Bremerton, the east Puget Sound lowlands, Olympia, the lower Chehalis Valley and central coast, including Hoquiam.

In Olympia, more than a foot of snow was still on the ground, but now covered by a sheet of ice, as freezing rain fell Wednesday morning. Many residential roads weren't plowed, and large tree limb were brought down by heavy snow and ice on several roads and yards.

Forecasters expect up to 0.4 inch of ice before temperatures rise above freezing by afternoon.

The warm-up could bring flooding to the Chehalis River in southwest Washington, meteorologist Colman said. But a freezing level of 3,000 to 4,000 feet should help keep snow in the mountains.