The Snow of 2008
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Page updated 25-Dec-2008


The past week and a half have been a quadruple snowstorm and counting.

Saturday -- 13 December

My friend Tim and I had gone with my wrestling bud Bob to watch a local MMA match at Highline Community College Saturday evening. Our friends Animal and Mario had a fighter from their school in one of the bouts. I hadn't been to this event before, which is put on by a fight school in Renton, has a six-sided cage, and the US Army was sponsoring it and had recruiters there. The snow started falling around the second bout, and we left after the fifth to make sure we could get home, so we didn't get to see our man fight. It didn't help that the event organizers moseyed slowly from one bout to the next, which meant it would end sometime past midnight. The sponsoring bar advertised a post-fight party in Renton afterward. Sigh, only in suburban automobilia would an after-event five miles from the venue seem like a normal thing. Anyway, Tim and I left at 10:10 to give plenty of time to walk to the parking lot in the snow. The 10:30 bus wasn't there yet but another driver who was on break let us sit in his bus rather than standing in the cold. So that was Act of Kindness #1. The bus to Seattle finally came, which usually takes an hour but tonight took ten minutes more. I was a little sick, and got a horrible coughing fit on the way. Fortunately the cold didn't last but it was the third this year, which must be a record for me.

When we got to my apartment, the neighbors had done a good job of shoveling their sidewalks, thankfully because I live on the side of a steep hill. The long avenues are flat but the streets between them are steep. The snow was gone from the streets and sidewalks for the next few days, then the second storm hit Wednesday evening, with 3" in the city and 12" in the outlying areas.

Thursday -- 18 December

Thursday I went in to work in the mid-morning. Went to the bus tunnel downtown because I figured it would be more reliable than Broadway, but one lane was closed and nobody could tell me which lane the U-district bus would come out on, so I went one stop inside the tunnel to Westlake where it wouldn't detour. The bus driver decided to skip Eastlake and went on the freeway, which was covered with snow but there weren't many cars around so everybody was just booking along. In the U-district I transferred to the Sand Point bus (#30), which I didn't have to wait for but several people said they had been waiting 45 minutes. On the bus was a chemist from my department and one of the security guards, who was three hours late and had come on the ferry from Bremerton. (Er, a 2 1/2-hour commute each way every day? I hear it's nice to sleep on the ferry for an hour though.) By the time we got to work at 11am, they had decided to close the campus so we had to turn around. I would've stayed but they were going to close the front gate, meaning no buses would come into campus and I'd have to walk up to the road and stand in a residential area for who knows how long before the #75 came, if it did. So I grabbed some stuff to work on at home, took my SecurID I sign my timesheet with, I went back to the U-district and had a long lunch at the Bombay Grill. (Gotta support those local businesses when nobody can get out to shop.) Fortunately I had done my Christmas shopping the day before. Then I got a downtown bus, which again I didn't have to wait for but other people said they'd been waiting 45 minutes -- never mind that it's supposed to come every eight minutes.

Friday -- 19 December

Friday I set out for work, but as soon as I stepped out of my apartment I was slipping on the ice, so I went back in to lighten my backpack. Then I decided there was no point in spending 3+ hours getting there and back when I could work at home. But first I took a nap.

At noon I was woken by a phone call from Tim, who said the TV news was showing two tour buses that had slid down a street near my house and were hanging over the freeway. [Photos: 1 2] I looked outside and it was right at the corner of my apartment building; the same street I had thought was too slippery that morning. I-5 is cut into the hillside, and the front wheels of one of the buses was hanging on the guardrail above the right lane. Melrose Avenue, the street parallel to the freeway where my apartment is, is usually closed on 4th of July for fireworks-watchers, but today it was closed because the buses were blocking the intersection.

            |           ||                     | 
downtown    |           ||   * my apartment    |
            |           ||                     | * tiny park     
REI         |  I-5     XXXXXXXX----------------+--------------
            |  freeway  ||   ^^ bus crash      |B    E Thomas Street
(downhill)  |           ||M                    |e
            |           ||e                    |l
            |           ||l                    |l
            |           ||r                    |e
            |           ||o                    |v
            |           ||s                    |u
            |           ||e                    |e
            |           ||                     |
            |           ||A                    |A
 * REI      |           ||v                    |v
            |           ||e                    |e    E Denny Way
to          |           ||E                    |E    to Broadway (uphill)
downtown    |           ||                     | 
(downhill)  |           ||                     |

So what had happened is, the buses were carrying jazz students from eastern Washington to their winter break. They had exited the freeway intending to go down Denny Way to the Greyhound station. But Denny Way was closed because it was too steep, so the buses looked for another way down and chose my street (Thomas). Really bad idea. Thomas is too narrow for buses and has cobblestones. And none of the streets except Denny cross the freeway, so it wasn't going to get then there anyway. But being from out of town, they didn't know that. So one bus slid down the hill and hit the other bus, which jumped over the guardrail but thankfully didn't fall onto the freeway, though it did drop chunks of the concrete retaining wall onto the right lane. We had no idea how they were going to lift the bus from its hanging position, or even get a tow truck there before the snow melted, but somehow they managed to extract the buses that evening.

A woman from Minnesota on the radio said that when it snows there, the ground is already frozen so it blows around dry at first and then piles up. Whereas here there's a lot of moisture from the ocean and the temperature stays right near freezing, so the snow falls on warm ground and partly melts which is why it's so wet, then it turns to slush during the day and refreezes into ice at night, then another layer of snow falls on top of that and creates another unstable layer of ice. Which is what my mom always said. But the woman also added another point I hadn't thought about, that they don't have hills in the Midwest. Which reminds me of the story of the school superintendant who had a house on top of Queen Anne Hill. It snowed one year and the neighbors begged him to close the schools but he said, "It's just an inch or two, no problem." So he got in his car to head to work, slid down to the bottom of the hill, and then called the school district to close the schools.

Tim came in the afternoon to stay with me until the snow melted (he lives in another residential suburb, Richmond Beach). I was happy to have somebody to walk to the store with to keep each other from slipping in the ice. Madison Market and Trader Joe's are a mile away, and we passed four or five people falling on the way. Walking in snow is an excellent foot workout, and it also takes a long time so it took us like an hour to walk a mile. Since I can't get to the gym I guess that's close enough to a workout. We made it there and back, and when we got to Melrose & Denny we saw thirty people standing and two dogs in the intersection at Bellevue, sledding down Denny Way on plastic panels, inner tubes, plastic wrap, and a laundry basket. Denny Way was closed between Bellevue and the bottom of the hill, and people were sledding in force. Two cops had parked their squad car at the intersection and were watching the fun, saying they had nothing better to do. I said, "It's a good day when the police have nothing better to do than watch sledding." I also said, "This is the only time we see our neighbors except 4th of July and voting day." The sledders may have stayed all night; certainly they were there all of the next day and into Sunday until the snow turned to slush.

That night a low cloud covered the entire inner city area, and reflected the light from the ground and the snow. This made it surprisingly light all night, light enough that it tricks you into thinking it's daylight. That was cool. I left the blinds open on my windows so I could see the snow on the berry trees. These photos [3 4 ] were taken at 2am with a shutter speed of 6 seconds, but you can see it looks like daylight.

Saturday - Monday -- 20-22 December

With two snowfalls on top of each other, the snow had reached 12 inches in the inner city. The second snowfall itself was 12 inches in the outlying areas. A tent over an ice-skating rink collapsed onto the skaters below, a carport roof fell onto its car, and a couple business roofs also collapsed. The TV man said snow is 15 pounds per square foot, so be sure to scrape it off your roof.

Because Denny Way was closed, bus 8 to Seattle Center was cancelled. Eventually no buses at all came up to Capitol Hill or Queen Anne Hill, so if you wanted to go anywhere you had to walk. And you couldn't carry anything like laundry or a lot of groceries because that would make you heavy and prone to slip. That was the most frustrating part, not being able to do your usual stuff, or even go to the gym because it's at the bottom of a steep hill. So Tim and I would just take walks once or twice a day on the relatively flat roads, either for dinner or errands or to see what was happening in the neighborhood, but otherwise stayed in.

One evening we went to Bimbo's Bitchin Burrito Kitchen for dinner and Peet's for tea, and the next evening we went to Linda's which is kind of a punk dive with meatloaf. Bimbo's and Linda's were packed, presumably with neighborhood staff who could walk to work, and neighborhood patrons who wanted to get out of their apartments. This brought a surprising sales boost to neighborhood shops. All over the city people couldn't get to the malls and chain stores, so they went to the neighborhood mom n pop shops instead.

Saturday Tim and I walked downtown to watch the shoppers at Westlake Mall and Pike Place Market. Not many shoppers at Westlake, and Pike Place was so empty in spots it looked closed. But I saw an artist selling drawings of evil cats, so I bought a couple for my neighbor Meri who's a cat lover. An impulse buy, but it's supporting a local business, and she's gonna love the prints on her wall. Monday we went downtown again so Tim could pick up his paycheck, and I could mail some bills and return some library books. The library opened at noon -- I guess to give their staff extra time to get to work.

Thousands of people were stranded at the airport, train station, and Greyhound station as all flights, trains, and intercity buses were cancelled for 48 hours. The airline patrons could at least get refunds. The Greyhound patrons couldn't, and Greyhould made a big faux pas when they closed the station for the night and bused three dozen people to a snow shelter the city had opened. But the snow shelter wouldn't let anybody but the homeless in, and the Greyhound staff had gone and locked the station, so the police had to transport the stranded travellers from one snow shelter to another in their squad cars. Talk about fuck-up. Things like this always happen on Greyhound, and every time a few passengers vow they're never going to ride it again. Some of them even chartered a private bus at $50 a seat to take them to Portland. ("If the delivery trucks and charter buses can get through, why can't Greyhound?")

Tuesday -- 23 December

Monday the office was closed so I didn't go in. Good thing I had taken my SecurID home even though I wasn't expecting to be out for more than a day. But I wanted to go in Tuesday to discuss some bug reports with the others face to face. Tim also left to spend the rest of the snowstorm at his house. Half the buses weren't running, including the #30 I usually take to work. I got to the U-district OK and was about to take the 75, when my project manager called and said he was driving in with another guy, and gave me a ride the rest of the way. Sand Point Way looked like the Cascade Mountains, trees on both sides of the road with snow all around, as if it were a mountain highway. We got in and fortunately all the others on my project did too, so we had a long status meeting knowing we might not be all there together again for a week. The meeting was a little frustrating because different people had different ideas, and I think everybody was getting a little annoyed at the snow and not being able to do their usual things. I got a carpool back to the U-district and then took the downtown bus, which got stuck at the Fred Hutchinson cancer center a mile short of downtown. Or rather, it wasn't stuck, but the car in front of it and the bus in front of that were stuck, and it was a two-lane road so we couldn't go anywhere. I got out and walked on Fairview which is flatter, passed one bus stop with ten people waiting, and then at least one person waiting at every later stop. It took 45 minutes to get downtown and I didn't see one bus along the way.

I decided to go to Costco before the next snowstorm came in that evening, because I was missing my salami and cheese and protein powder. I got the Federal Way bus at Westlake and was about the last person to fit on. The 174 goes halfway to Tacoma (15 miles) and stops at the airport, and it's flat the whole way so there wouldn't be any hill problems. The bus passed three tunnel stops without taking anybody on, passed up others in the Industrial District, let me off at Costco and took only one person on to replace me. I thought Costco would either be closed or packed, but it wasn't that full, and most of the shopping carts had groceries rather than Christmas toys. Afterward I didn't want to wait for a bus that might not come or would be packed (since it would have been picking people up for 15 miles including the airport), so I walked to Lander Street (another mile) where five buses get off the freeway so I figured I wouldn't have to wait as long.

Wednesday -- 24 December

I wasn't about to get caught in a slow-travel day again so I worked from home, and in the evening wrapped my mom's Christmas presents. Tomorrow I'd be going to visit her around noontime. It has started to get warmer so the snow is starting to melt, although there's supposed to be a fifth snowfall tomorrow. But they say it's supposed to turn to rain by Friday and then all this snow will be cleared away. Although they're also talking about floods when all the snow melts at once. That won't affect me since I live on the side of a hill, but it'll affect people in the lowlying areas.

[drawing] [drawing]

Sluggo is Mike Orr, a helluva friendly guy in Seattle. Email me if you have feedback.