Ella Fitzgerald or Frank Sinatra or any YouTube cover artist will tell you, “the weather outside is frightful,” and they would be right.
Yesterday, Dec. 26, 2021, will go down in history as one of the coldest days in the region's history. Seattle hit 22 degrees, a 2 degree drop from the last record low for the day, set in 1924. The cold also set new records in Sea-Tac and Bellingham, according to the National Weather Service of Seattle.
Although one day late for an iconic white Christmas, anywhere from two to five to seven-ish inches of snow fell across the Seattle region. Local weather authority Scott Sistek put the dump into units even snow-ignorant Seattle locals can understand.
Snow is great if you have the privilege to interact with it selectively, but with delays, cancelations, logistical changes, and other bumps in the road for city and county services, life does not continue so smoothly for all Seattleites in the severe weather.
In true Seattle fashion, the weekend’s snow drop reignited age-old tension between west coast locals and midwestern transplants who apparently were birthed into the driver’s seat of a station wagon during a blizzard. While half a foot of snow may be a mere dusting for Minnesotans-turned-Seattleites, in Seattle, a city much less prepared for these conditions, it's not so chill.
Elizabeth Guevara, a spokesperson for Washington State Department of Transportation, told The Stranger she advises drivers to “drive for the conditions.”
“If you aren't comfortable driving in winter weather, folks should consider delaying travel or using a different type of transportation and making sure that their vehicle is prepared for snowy conditions—and be prepared for conditions to change,” Guevara said.
Even if conditions look better, Guevara said there is still a lot of compact snow and ice. Weather is “fickle,” Guevara reminded us, so it is important to stay in the loop as the situation develops.
At least we have public transit, right?
King County Executive Dow Constantine directed King County Metro to activate the Emergency Snow Network starting Monday until further notice. This measure, which has only been taken one other time in 2019, reduces service to about 60 core routes based on demand, according to a statement on King County Metro’s website.
One bus driver told The Stranger that he’s not having too bad of a time in the poor conditions.
“As long as the drive axle tires have chains properly fitted on them and I drive slowly, driving the bus in the snow can feel pretty normal, even fun at times,” he said.
The driver argued that driving a bus in the snow is safer than driving a car because the vehicle is bigger which means it’s heavier, has better traction, and is more visible to other vehicles and pedestrians.
On top of that, transit is sorta, kinda free! In 2019, King County Council passed an ordinance waiving fare enforcement and transit fare collection in certain emergencies, including when the Emergency Snow Network is in effect. However, yesterday King County Metro’s official Twitter account commented that it’s a little more nuanced than it appears:
Thank you for sharing this point, technically fare enforcement is suspended by ordinance, while we continue to collect fares. Metro currently has transit security officers deployed rather than fare enforcement, while we complete our SaFE reform discussions.
— King County Metro 🚏 🚌🚎⛴🚐 (@kcmetrobus) December 27, 2021
With ~free fare, the bus driver from King County Metro said that many of the night passengers are “seeking shelter from the elements.”
Just last week, Women in Black, a group organized by WHEEL (Women’s Housing, Equality and Enhancement League), honored the lives of 139 unsheltered people who died outside or by violence in 2021. Without decisive action from the city, a record-breaking cold could result in more avoidable death for people who live outside.
From Dec. 25-29, the King County Regional Homelessness Authority will open extra spaces to bring unhoused people inside.
I love that every group I know is doing a winter drive and working overtime to help folks outside and the city of Seattle's just like "Here's a couple warming shelters that open at 7pm and inconsistent messaging on where to go and when. good luck"
— tye eats the rich (@themobilepauper) December 27, 2021
KCRHA lists six severe weather shelters to stay warm at night (including City Hall), 11 day centers, four Seattle Parks warming centers, four malls, and many libraries which were all closed yesterday and continue to have spotty hours. Find all those locations here.
On the topic of closures, Public Health - Seattle & King County closed COVID-19 testing facilities in Bellevue, Enumclaw, Federal Way, Kent - Des Moines, and Renton due to weather. That means more than half of King County-operated test sites are closed. Kate Cole, a spokesperson for Public Health - Seattle & King County, said two of the three sites that are open are operating at limited capacity.
Public Health - Seattle & King County had to cancel about 1,000 scheduled appointments today at a time of very high testing demand, according to Cole. This comes during a recent surge in COVID-19 cases, which is breaking county records. According to the county’s COVID-19 data dashboard, the county has seen a 195% increase in cases in the past seven days, averaging 1,586 infections per day.
Cole recommended in an email that people seek testing with a regular healthcare provider first, if they have one, to help “preserve limited capacity at our King County sites for those who do not have access to other healthcare resources.” She recommended at-home test kits and rapid testing if you need a test for travel. She also said, “if you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms—even if symptoms are mild, and even if you haven't been tested yet—quarantine yourself from others immediately.”
Anywhooooo, good luck out there.