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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Under the Weather

In addition to malaria, lost luggage and accidentally ordering stewed warthog due to language barriers in foreign restaurants, one risk travel writers run is taking one's home city for granted.

Generally, winter in Seattle is an uninterrupted parade of steel-wool skies and wet-dog drizzle. It's not warm enough for "Hello from the beach, wish you were here" pictures, and not cold enough for "I threw a cup of hot coffee into the street and it froze before it hit the ground" emails. Day after day, it's 40 degrees and raining lightly.

But sometimes the Northwest's weather seems to notice that we're getting complacent. Taking things a little for granted. Spending too much time flirting with flashy cruise brochures. In moments such as those, Mother Nature decides to give us disrespectful citizens of Puget Sound a good slap across the posterior.

Last weekend began so well. There was a sunset that looked like it had been conjured up by Walt Disney after a three-day bender in Tijuana:

Sure, it was on Friday the 13th, but who's superstitious?

Then it got cold. A smattering of snow moved through. "Pshaw," scoffs the Seattleite. "This eighth-of-an-inch is why God invented studded snow tires!"
But some of the squalls had a distinctly angry look about them:

Still, the week started off dry and everyone trudged back to the office. Yeah, the weatherman was going on about some sort of incipient snowmageddon, but we've all heard that before, haven't we? It's always going to be a dump of the white stuff that would impress Buffalo, until the appointed day comes and goes with nothing more remarkable than a record dew point in Yelm.

Not this time. After toying with us on Tuesday, winter let fly with a monumental outpouring of snow. Two inches. Four inches. Six inches. In southern Puget Sound a foot or more. Life skidded to an abrupt halt. Seattle's hills became sledding runs. Home Depot sold out of salt and shovels. The roads were littered with abandoned tire chains, Subarus and Metro buses. By the end of the day Seattle accumulated more snow than Vancouver got over the course of the entire 2010 Olympics.

Then the freezing rain started. Our neighbors to the south in Portland are well accustomed to this phenomenon and never let an ice storm get between them and the hippest new couscous/kimchee/fondue-fusion food truck. But geography has dealt Puget Sound a different hand and made that type of weather extremely rare here. Trees snapped, power lines came down, and before you could say "Why the @#% didn't I get new flashlight batteries" a quarter of a million people had lost power. In 30-degree temperatures.

Our sturdy Puget Sound Energy crews have been working around the clock for two days now, and most service has been restored. It's warmed back into the 40s and the snow is nearly gone, save for the 15-foot-high gray piles in the Thriftway parking lot.

I've silently promised the TV meteorologist that I will try to pay attention next time a storm is forecast. But I have been sneaking looks at the cruise brochures again.

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