A powerful winter storm in the Pacific Northwest is taking the region by surprise, with bitter temperatures and extensive snowfall prompting a state of emergency in Washington state.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee declared the emergency on Friday, saying residents should limit time outside and stay off the roads.
“Weather forecasters predict this may be a storm unlike one we’ve seen in many years,” Inslee said in a statement.
More than 200 flights at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport were canceled on Friday, and more than 300 were delayed according to the flight tracking website FlightAware.
As of Saturday morning, more than 7 inches of snow had fallen at Sea-Tac airport. It’s an occurrence Meteorologist Marc Chenard of the Weather Prediction Center deemed significant.
“It does happen in Seattle, typically more in December and January,” Chenard said. “Even with that, it’s an event that happens once a year, once every couple of years.”
Winter storm warnings are in effect for many western states, from Northern California to northwest Montana, according to the National Weather Service.
“We have a very strong mid and upper-level low pressure system that centered off the Pacific Northwest coast that’s bringing in colder conditions than what we would typically see,” Chenard said.
The snow in the Seattle area is expected to wind down by Saturday afternoon, however, another system is expected to bring some lighter accumulations on Sunday.
“There are more systems coming off the Pacific that will have the potential to bring snow,” Chenard said. “So it’s not going to be a continuous snow but there are chances of snow in the Seattle area off and on pretty much right through the week.”
Chilly temperatures are also expected to stretch into the coming week, meaning the snow will most likely stick around.
Drivers are being urged to stay off the roads and Washington’s Department of Transportation is warning of extremely long travel times due to snow.
Some Washington state residents who are more accustomed to winter rain are taking precautions due to the different weather. On Friday, many locals tweeted photos of empty grocery store shelves.
One person is reported to have died from the freezing temperatures. A 59-year-old man, who may have been homeless, was found at a light-rail station sometime before 5 a.m. Thursday. He is thought to have died from the exposure, according to The Seattle Times.
The Seattle Times reports that homeless service providers are bracing for the coming week of low temperatures and snowfall by opening more shelters to accommodate those who need a place to stay out of the cold.