Several schools announce early Friday release ahead of impending winter storm

    A snowy scene in Redmond. (Photo: Discovering The High Life)

    SEATTLE -- The weekend is coming early to the Seattle area as several schools announced early release schedules for Friday trying to race ahead of an incoming winter storm that is set to drop several inches of snow across the Puget Sound region Friday into Saturday.

    Seattle, Tacoma, Kent, Mercer Island, North/Central Kitsap, Bremerton and Lake Washington School Districts are among those who have already announced classes will be dismissed earlier than usual Friday. (See Full List>> ). The "evening" commute will likely come earlier than usual as other offices and workplaces take similar strategies.

    A Winter Storm Warning is in effect from noon Friday to noon Saturday, expecting 4-6 inches for the greater Seattle/Puget Sound region, Kitsap County, much of the North Interior, Eastside foothills and Olympic Peninsula.

    Meanwhile, Southwestern Washington and the Whatcom County/San Juan Islands are under a lesser Winter Weather Advisory for 2-4 inches of snow. Timing has snow beginning along the Canadian border around daybreak or a little before, then slowly moving south as the day progresses, reaching Port Angeles around 8-9 a.m., around Everett at 11am-noon, into Seattle between 1-2 ish, and Tacoma around 3-5 p.m. Those are estimates as of now; timing could still shift a few hours either way.

    "Be where you want to be by noon," says KOMO Meteorologist Shannon O'Donnell.

    Already Snohomish County, which took the brunt of Monday's storm with up to 10-12 inches of snow in some places, has declared a preemptive State of Emergency, which allows for mobilizing county resources and providing a more flexible and effective response.

    Snohomish County Road Maintenance crews will be fully staffed around the clock as the storms arrive, county officials said, with crews working 12-hour shifts plowing and applying sand. Up to 40 plows are scheduled to be working on unincorporated roads at any given time, officials said.

    Another trough of low pressure is developing off Vancouver Island and will move along or just off the Washington coastline, not only wrapping moisture around but pulling in more arctic air from the interior of British Columbia into Western Washington via the Fraser River Valley. In addition, the atmospheric set up is primed to combine some lift aloft while injecting additional moisture at the mid-levels, all the ingredients needed for heavy snow development.

    It's a nearly perfect setup for our region to get a widespread, moderate-to-heavy snowfall.

    "The low will pump moist and relatively milder (but still rather cold) air off the Pacific over the top of advancing low level cold air from the Fraser," Seattle lead forecaster Jay Albrecht at the National Weather Service wrote in its Thursday morning forecast discussion. "This combination will give the potential for large snowfall amounts across much of the interior."

    He warns there is a chance for heavier snow totals than currently forecast as some forecast models "show potentially crippling snowfall amounts for the Seattle/Everett/Tacoma area westward to the Olympics" with 10-14 inch accumulations not out of the realm in a worst case scenario. "But we also have a few computer models that show we would only get 2-4 (inches of accumulation)." Snow totals will also likely be more variable than our storm earlier this week, with some areas just getting a few inches while others could climb over a foot.

    In addition, strong north winds will be a factor once again like Monday's storm, especially around Whatcom County and the San Juan Islands, only this time the winds may be even stronger. Winds on Monday hit as much as 50-60 mph, and a High Wind Watch is in effect there. That combined with moderate snow would make for blizzard-like conditions near the Fraser Outflow, or at least greatly reduced visibility in the snow -- though there will be less snow fall up there than in the Puget Sound region.

    The Puget Sound region will also see strong north winds gusting to 30-45 mph, especially near the shorelines, making blowing snow with drifts a possibility too.

    The heaviest snows are expected overnight Friday night into Saturday as the storm center slides south off the coast. "Highest snowfall rates possible in the Central Puget Sound area Friday night into Saturday," the National Weather Service wrote. "This may make it exceptionally difficult to treat or clear roadways and make emergency response difficult."

    Saturday will be snowy and windy with blowing snow and temperatures in the 20s, with wind chills in teens to single digits. The exception is around Whatcom County where wind chills amid the stronger winds will be at or just below zero.

    Snow will gradually taper off Saturday evening and Saturday night with a hard freeze overnight. A brief break during the day Sunday, but another potential snow event looms sometime between Sunday night and Tuesday. It'll remain cold enough to snow, but amount of moisture is still in flux. There are other potential snow events lurking in the long range forecast, which foresees continued cold weather through the next 10-14 days at least.

    "It's rather unusual, especially for February but something we'll be watching," Albrecht said. "We've had big Januarys before, and we've had some big Decembers... In February, I think it's a little bit unusual and to get back-to-back-to-back is starting to get extremely unusual."

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