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Island prepares for a white Christmas

Alexander Toney pulls his sled up a hill Sunday morning in Oak Harbor. More snow blew through Whidbey Island over the weekend, leaving slick roads, fallen trees and burst pipes. More snow is forecast Tuesday night. - Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times
Alexander Toney pulls his sled up a hill Sunday morning in Oak Harbor. More snow blew through Whidbey Island over the weekend, leaving slick roads, fallen trees and burst pipes. More snow is forecast Tuesday night.
— image credit: Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times

Another weekend of snow falling on Whidbey Island means more slick driving conditions for residents, and more winter fun for children.

And most importantly, it looks like it will be a white Christmas with more snowfall expected today.

City and county road crews remained busy over the weekend trying to stay ahead of the snow and residents seemed to be trying to stay off the roads.

Nearly a week’s worth of snow created treacherous driving conditions, wreaking havoc for motorists on island roadways, both big and small. At least a foot of the cold, white stuff accumulated on North Whidbey.

Police received multiple reports of naughty snowmen blocking roadways, as well as trees falling and frozen water pipes breaking open. The city received reports of about 20 broken pipes leaking on Monday alone.

Rhonda Haines, the city’s utility services coordinator, said that people should keep a steady trickle of water running in their homes and wrap exposed pipes. More tips can be found at oakharbor.org.

A water pipe supplying North Whidbey Middle School’s sprinkler system burst Monday morning. Oak Harbor School District spokesman Joe Hunt said custodians were fortunately in the building at the time of the accident. Firefighters shut the system down until repairs were made. Hunt said the gym floor was flooded but didn’t sustain any damage.

Oak Harbor and Island County Police and Fire worked through the weekend, responding to calls from stranded vehicles and minor fender benders despite snow crew’s best plowing and sanding efforts.

“Most are minor, non-injury calls,” North Whidbey Fire Chief Marv Koorn said.

City and county police closed Goldie Road at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday following a natural gas leak caused by a Toyota pickup truck that rolled over and landed on top of a natural gas riser.

Cascade Natural Gas fixed the leak later that day and the road was re-opened, said Koorn.

Clear, icy weather made for slick conditions Friday, which contributed to a collision at Highway 20 and SW Erie Street.

“This is a hot spot for accidents,” Officer Cedric Niro said of the location, even in the best of conditions.

Drivers heading southbound on Highway 20 often slow to allow northbound traffic onto Erie Street. On the two-lane road, this kind of “good Samaritan” driving is dangerous, he said, and often results in an accident.

Rich Tyhuis, operations manager for the Oak Harbor Public Works department, said three plows are clearing roads in the city. He said Monday morning that the loose snow was plowed off the main streets and crews were starting to plow the residential streets. They are also spot-sanding at intersections and on hills, he said, adding that crews worked all day Sunday and into the early morning Monday.

Like in Oak Harbor, public works employees were busy clearing roads in Coupeville. Mayor Nancy Conard said the town has two snow plows in operation and the main roads will remain clear because they ensure access to Whidbey General Hospital, the courts and fire department.

“It’s tough when you have a small department and a prolonged weather event,” Conard said. She complimented the maintenance crew on the job they’ve been doing plowing and sanding roads.

In the county, every available piece of equipment is in use to maintain the roads, especially since temperatures are about to rise.

“We’re working hard to get roads clear while the snow is melting,” said Bill Oakes, Island County Public Works director.

Road crews are ramping up their efforts to clear the pavement as forecasters call for more snow on Whidbey Island. As of press time Monday, there is a 60 percent chance of snow Tuesday evening, Oakes said.

Joe Biller, chief of Central Whidbey Fire and Rescue, said it looks like many people are avoiding the slick roads by staying off of them.

“The good news is that people are heeding advice and hunkering down,” Biller said. He added that firefighters in Central Whidbey responded to reports of broken power lines and people who’ve slipped and fallen, but there haven’t been reports of fires or major accidents.

Unfortunately, the department’s Santa Mobile is cancelled because of heavy snow. Candy canes normally dispersed to residents will be donated to Gifts from the Heart food bank.

There were scattered power outages reported Monday morning. Most of those outages happened on the south end of the island. Roger Thompson, a spokesperson for Puget Sound Energy, said there were fewer than 1,000 outages reported on Whidbey Island Monday morning. It’s been difficult for crews to restore power to affected homes because the snow is so deep.

The snow that has fallen, and stayed on Whidbey Island, hasn’t dampened holiday spirits.

The Coupeville Historic Waterfront Association held its first-ever, Red Ticket drawing Sunday afternoon in front of a crowd of several hundred people. Coupeville resident Penny Holland won the $1,000 cash drawing.

“We were kind of nervous because of the weather,” said Mary Sterling of the Waterfront Association, but was pleased that so many people came out for the event.

Sterling said that people enjoyed hot chocolate, music and stayed hours after the drawing to shop local stores.

“It was a little get-together,” Sterling said. “People just stayed around and chatted.”

Likewise, shoppers continued with their holiday shopping in downtown Oak Harbor. Although a handful of Pioneer Way businesses posted temporary winter-weather closure notices in their windows, others enjoyed an influx of last-minute holiday shoppers, unable to safely travel to mainland malls and chain stores.

— Staff reporter Jenny Manning contributed to this story.

Community Events, April 2014

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