Winter storm brings closures, icy conditions

Published on Thu, Jan 8, 2004 by Rebecca Schwarz Kopf

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Winter storm brings closures, icy conditions

By Rebecca Schwarz Kopf

The winter storm that rolled into Blaine and Birch Bay early Tuesday dropped several inches of snow, leaving icy road conditions and school closures for two days; however, officials say the storm produced less problems than expected.

The Division of Emergency Management (DEM) held a briefing earlier in the week in preparation of the storm, which was predicted to be the worst since December of 1996, when three feet of snow fell on parts of Whatcom County. This week�s storm � a mix of snow, high winds and freezing rain � was a result of a warm front moving off the Pacific Ocean colliding with icy air, according to the National Weather Service.

Blaine schools were closed on Tuesday and Wednesday due to the conditions, and numerous businesses shut down early Tuesday, leaving many roads empty of travelers.

�There was absolutely nobody on the road, everybody went home. It was kind of eerie,� said Jim Rutherford, North Whatcom Fire and Rescue Services (NWFRS) division chief. �There were some accidents on the freeway, but overall (in Blaine and Birch Bay) there weren�t too many.�

There were several alarm activations from pipe incidents, he said, �which kept us busy. There was one incident of pipe trouble at a Semiahmoo home, and there was a lot of water.�

Blaine police chief Mike Haslip agreed, stating the department received just a couple of busted water pipe calls, including an activated water fire alarm at a vacant business, and minimal accidents.

�Blaine city departments planned accordingly (for the weather), and when the snow began early on Tuesday morning, staff and equipment were in place to maintain basic services,� Haslip said. �Folks have been driving cautiously and the school district's decision to not have class yesterday helped a whole lot with keeping traffic down and everyone safe in the afternoon.�

As of Wednesday morning, Haslip said, �the city had only one weather related reportable accident since the latest storm began.�

There were a few accidents over the course of the week though, including a rollover New Year�s morning, on I-5 near Dakota Creek. Connie Pilon, 39, of Bellingham, received minor injuries and was taken to St. Joseph Hospital.

�The driver reported that she was northbound on I-5, crossing the Dakota Creek bridge in the slow lane when she lost control of the vehicle. The jeep slid into the left lane, rotated 180 degrees and slid backwards through the median before rolling twice and coming to a stop in the middle of the southbound lanes of the freeway,� Haslip said. �The moral of the story is that seatbelts do save lives.�The driver would probably have been ejected and/or suffered massive injury had she not been wearing her properly buckled seat and shoulder belt.�

Roger Brown, general manager of Birch Bay water and sewer district (BBWSD), said five inches of snow fell on Tuesday.

�In a situation like this - frozen ground, accumulated snow, followed by rain - we can get very high peak flows that can stress the wastewater system,� Brown said, adding in this case, the warming has been fairly gradual, so there haven�t been problems.

The district did have a break in the six-inch water main serving their office and wastewater treatment plant on January 4, which was detected by their telemetry system through a high flow rate alarm at the Point Whitehorn booster pump station. Water department staff responded to the alarm and turned off the water within about one hour of the time the break was detected, Brown said. �We estimate that about 15,000 gallons of water was lost as a result of this break, which was repaired on January 5. This interruption of water service had no impact on plant operations,� he said. �The principal effect was that there was no potable water service for the district office for part of the day Monday, January 5.�

According to Dale Kloes, a program specialist with the Whatcom County Sheriffs Office Division of Emergency Management, warmer, wet weather will remain through the weekend with lows in the high 30s and highs in the upper 40s.

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