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Schools close, traffic crawls as snow storm blankets Whidbey Island

Whidbey public schools closed Tuesday and the Puget Sound region is bracing for more snow that is expected to fall this week.

Parts of Whidbey were snowed under this week, including Oak Harbor and  Clinton, though most areas in between were clear. But it started coming down hard Tuesday morning, school superintendents announced closures Tuesday, and several inches or more of the white stuff covered the island. It wasn’t unusual to see cars stuck in ditches or unable to make it up hills.

The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning stating that one to two inches of snow would fall Tuesday before breaking in the evening. Then, an additional five to 10 inches of snow is possible to fall by Wednesday evening.

Snow started falling on Whidbey Island Saturday and has been continuing throughout the week. The Tuesday morning snowfall prompted school officials to cancel schools in Oak Harbor, Coupeville and South Whidbey.

Oak Harbor School District Superintendent Rick Schulte said staff checked the roads at around 2:30 a.m. and they were considering keeping schools open. However snow started falling later in the morning and they changed their minds.

“By 4:30 a.m., it was snowing pretty hard and it was foggy in some places,” Schulte said, adding that many other school districts canceled classes around the same time Oak Harbor made a decision.

The Oak Harbor area appeared to have received the most snow on North Whidbey Island from the storm that blew through the area Saturday. Several inches of snow appeared have fallen in town with less accumulation in surrounding areas.

“It just got worse and worse when I came into town,” said Ben Deschepper, a warehouse workers at Skagit Farmer’s Supply, while shoveling snow out of the parking lot. He came to work from north of Oak Harbor.

Despite the snow, emergency personnel reported a slow weekend. Marv Koorn, chief of North Whidbey Fire and Rescue, said firefighters responded to two car accidents while Ed Hartin, chief of Central Whidbey Fire and Rescue, said firefighters didn’t receive any calls Monday but responded to a rollover accident near the intersection of Hill and Ebey roads.

“Thus far, people have been staying at home and that’s been a good thing,” Hartin said. Monday was a holiday, which greatly reduced traffic.

Puget Sound Energy spokeswoman Dorothy Bracken said a few minor power outages occurred throughout the weekend when tree branches fell into power lines. But power was quickly restored.

She said staff is monitoring weather reports and crews are on alert for the next round of snow. On the positive side, she noted there aren’t any high-speed winds in the forecast.

“It’s a matter of how heavy the snow will be and whether branches will break off into the power lines,” Bracken said.

The weekend snow storm provided a chance for residents to enjoy a something they rarely see on Whidbey Island. A family in Oak Harbor, originally from San Diego, bundled up and went outside to enjoy a good old-fashioned snowball fight. Other people took advantage of the wet snow by making snowmen and snow forts. Tacoma resident Chloe Herzog was visiting Oak Harbor with her parents. She had a sled handy while she was at Windjammer Park.

Road crews have been busy since Saturday clearing the main roads on Whidbey Island.

“We’ve been working around the clock since the beginning of the weekend,” said Dustin Terpening, spokesman for the Washington State Department of Transportation. He said said 14 trucks in Skagit and Island counties have been plowing the highways. Of that amount, two are devoted to plowing Highway 20. Work crews also apply deicer when the conditions are clear and will add a mix of sand and salt on the highways during the snowstorm.

With even more snow expected on Whidbey Wednesday, a decision had not been made as of press time whether public schools on Whidbey will be canceled.

Schulte said that decision will be made when the school district receives definite information about Wednesday’s weather conditions. He said if more snow falls Wednesday, then classes will probably be canceled.

For more information about school closures in the Puget Sound region, go to www.schoolreport.org, or call a school to see if they’re open.

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