News

Snow's more fun than troublesome on island

Despite near-blizzard conditions and a seven-inch blanket of snow on North Whidbey, firefighters and law enforcement officials were pleasantly surprised that the weather caused few problems Tuesday.

With schools and the Navy base closed, it became a day of relaxation and fun for many island residents. Children flocked to local hills and slopes to try out their sleds. Korrin Alpers, a 9-year-old Christian School student originally from Florida, said the snow was really cold, but it made for great sledding.

“It’s soft,” she said, “and if you tip over on it you won’t get hurt.”

Cindy Quinn’s children played in the snow, preparing for a snowball fight, outside their home in Navy housing. She said it was the largest snow storm she’s seen in the 12 years she’s lived in town. “Finally,” she said, motioning to the white stuff. “I love the snow.”

The snow storm hit most of Western Washington Tuesday, closing schools and slowing traffic throughout the region. According to the weather station at the Navy base, the Oak Harbor area was one of the hardest hit. Snow started falling in the city at 5:35 a.m. Over 7.5 inches of snow fell by early afternoon and winds were over 17 miles per hour.

Many businesses were closed all day or closed early. The Navy base was shut to non-essential personnel. The city public works department closed steep side roads throughout Oak Harbor. The city council held a special meeting Tuesday afternoon to cancel a meeting Tuesday night. Even a child molestation trial in Island County Superior Court was delayed a day.

Police declare

problems minor

“The roads are pretty bad, but we haven’t had a lot of accidents,” Island County Deputy Ray Tash said Tuesday as he was patrolling the roads. There were extra deputies on duty because of the weather, but he said the number of calls were actually down from a normal shift.

Marv Koorn, chief of Island County Fire District 2, said firefighters were called to only a few non-injury accidents, all of them involving cars sliding off the road. “It seems like people are going slow and staying home,” he said, “which is good.”

Capt. Rick Wallace with the Oak Harbor Police Department said officers responded to about 10 minor, weather-related accidents and “about a half dozen traffic snarls” caused by cars getting stuck in intersections. Particularly bad was Highway 20 at Erie Street.

“The cold weather with snow on top turned it into a skating rink,” he said. “I haven’t seen it this slick in a long time. It could have been a lot worse.”

Sgt. Don Ney with the State Patrol echoed Wallace. He said there were only a few minor accidents — involving cars sliding into ditches — and no injuries. “I’m very proud of our Whidbey Island residents and drivers today,” he said.

Both the Oak Harbor Fire Department and Central Whidbey Fire and Rescue reported that they received no weather-related calls as of Tuesday afternoon.

Cold temps preceded snow

The cold weather last weekend probably caused more problems for island folks than the heavy snow. The Navy weather station reported that it got down to 11 degrees at 7 a.m. Sunday. Palmer Bodine, owner of Oak Harbor’s Bert Plumbing, said his company received about 50 work orders for frozen or burst pipes from Mount Vernon to South Whidbey over the weekend. Bert responds to emergencies 24-hours a day, seven days a week.

Bodine said the problem is that uninsulated and unprotected pipes — especially exterior hose faucets — can freeze and burst open when it gets really cold. Residents can often hearing the sound of water running under their homes when that happens.

“The first thing you need to do is shut the water off,” he said. “Then you need to call someone as soon as possible.”

Koorn said a Van Dam Road resident tried to thaw the pipes under his house with a torch Monday morning and ended up starting a fire. “The plastic caught on fire,” Koorn said, “and that in turn caught the insulation on fire.”

It took a while for the firefighters to put the blaze out because of the confined space, but there was only minor damage to the house.

While the snow petered out early in the afternoon, firefighters and law enforcement people were still concerned about the weather. The National Weather Service is warning of possible slick roads from freezing rain as temperatures rise Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning. There are also warning of urban flooding today.

The rest of the week is supposed to be warmer — with highs in the upper 40s — rainy and breezy.

Bud and Carol Arnold, residents of the north end of the island, didn’t have to work Tuesday and spent the day watching the snow fall.

“The best part is that the forecast said the snow is going to be gone tomorrow,” Bud said.

You can reach News-Times reporter Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611.

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