UPDATE: Islanders deal with late-winter snow, cold

Michelle Rouse walks on Pioneer Way toward a bus stop during a Wednesday morning snow storm. - Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times
Michelle Rouse walks on Pioneer Way toward a bus stop during a Wednesday morning snow storm.
— image credit: Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times

Friday dawned clear, bright, and a chilling 16 degrees in Oak Harbor, officially putting an end to a late-winter storm that brought parts of the island to a standstill.

Several inches of snow blew through Whidbey Island Wednesday, making the day challenging for islanders, some with better luck than others.

Vehicles equipped for the weather cruised the highways and byways, but others slid into ditches and waited for help. Island Transit kept its buses running but not up the hill leading to Greenbank. Afternoon passengers from a large bus had to transfer to a smaller bus, then detour around the hill by way of Wonn and North Bluff roads. The process took a couple of hours.

Thursday, islanders awoke to a fairy-tale scene with fields and trees covered by snow. Most roads were passable for those determined to get to work, but North and Central Whidbey schools were again shut down.

People were wandering the streets in Oak Harbor, either trying to make their appointments or to find someplace warm to ride out the storm. 

Rusty Bachman, Trudy Thomas and Derek Thomas were trudging through 8 inches of snow on Barrington Drive toward Island Cafe on Highway 20 to enjoy a warm bite to eat, while Michelle Rouse was walking to the bus stop on Bayshore Drive so she could get to her doctor’s appointment. 

Snow buried North Whidbey early Wednesday morning, while South Whidbey was hit later in the day. The weather caused officials to cancel North and Central Whidbey Island schools and work crews were scrambling to keep major roadways passable for motorists.

“They’ve been out ever since it started,” said Dave Chesson, spokesman for the Washington State Department of Transportation, of workers’ efforts to plow and sand the highway stretching the length of the island. 

He added work crews pretreated the island’s highways with anti-icer, which helps prevent ice from bonding with the road and de-icer, which, along with the weight of passing cars, helps prevent ice from forming. 

Chesson said plows had been busy working since the snow started to fall and workers would continue until the storm passes through. He added that it’s difficult for work crews to anticipate where the snow is going to drop. While North and Central Whidbey Island received a bunch of snow, Chesson pointed out the I-5 corridor near Bow Road north of Burlington hadn’t received any snow as of Wednesday morning. 

Public schools on Whidbey Island were canceled because of the snow storm. 

Coupeville School District Superintendent Patty Page said she originally was going to delay classes for two hours. However, when conditions worsened around 6 a.m., she decided that classes should be canceled.

“We didn’t want to get kids in and not get them home,” Page said, adding the freezing conditions meant cancelation was the best decision. School was later canceled for Thursday as well as snow continued to pile up on Central Whidbey.

The Oak Harbor School District canceled classes Wednesday as well as Thursday. On South Whidbey, in most areas the snow started later in the day Wednesday after schools had opened. However, the decision was made to start schools two hours late Feb. 24, with buses on snow routes and no out-of-district transportation.

Thursday and Friday mornings county crew were out early sanding the snowy and icy side roads, and state crews had the highway cleared.

After a bone-chilling Friday, the weather today is predicted to rise into the 30s, and Sunday begins a more normal stretch of weather with temperatures in the 40s and 50s along with rain. To many islanders, that will be a relief.


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