SNOW AND TELL: Bainbridge buried in biggest snow in a generation

There’s snow easy way to say it.

Back-to-back snowstorms left Bainbridge Island buried under the thickest blanket of snow in a generation.

The wicked winter weather shut down schools, made roads impassible, and left thousands of islanders without power, some for days, and shuttered businesses across Bainbridge.

Bainbridge Island City Hall was closed for two days, ferry sailings were scrubbed, garbage collection halted, concerts and special events postponed, and churches across the island canceled Sunday services.

The wild week of weather — a snow-packed one-two punch that walloped Western Washington — started late Friday, Feb. 7.

Then, things quickly got even flakier: Another winter storm followed, dropping even more snow across the region.

Snow piled up to more than 18 inches on some areas of Bainbridge.

According to Seattle Weather Blog, all the snow has made February the snowiest month in Seattle since January 1969. And according to the National Weather Service office in Seattle, the last time the area had 10 or more inches of snow over a two-day period was in 1972.

Weather forecasters issued multiple winter weather warnings, and islanders took heed before the first flakes started to fall in what some dubbed “Snowmageddon.”

The Safeway grocery on High School Road was filled with shoppers before noon Thursday, with long lines of people pushing packed carts. Shelves filled with soup, bread and other essentials began to empty.

No business like snow business

The scene at ACE Hardware got hectic early and didn’t slow down, longtime owner Steve Mikami said Wednesday, speaking from the store’s roof where he was busy shoveling troughs and clearing drains.

“Last Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday were very untypical for a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday in the month of February,” he said. “Lot of people getting supplies.”

The mood of the shoppers was mixed.

“Most of them were nervous, some of them were taking it in stride,” Mikami said. “We’ve had rock salt on the shelf, and snow shovels, since October of 2017, we haven’t run out since. So some people were prepared, some people weren’t as prepared.”

This time, though, the store was picked clean of shovels, salt, batteries and sleds by Friday, Mikami said, just as another shipment arrived.

“We ran out, but then our truck came Friday and we probably had four pallets of rock salt and it was gone in half an hour,” Mikami said. “It was unbelievable.

“We ran out of D batteries and then the power went out, but then we got some more batteries [Tuesday] and they were flying off the shelves quicker than they could put them back on,” he added.

“One guy, when the second truck came Friday, we got some rock salt, the one guy said, ‘Oh, I hit the Lotto!’ Because it’s all timing. We told people we’re not holding any, we’re not giving any rain checks.”

The cycle of boom and bust continued as the snow kept falling.

“We got stuff Friday morning and it was gone. Friday afternoon, we got some more stuff and it was gone. We got a late truck [Tuesday] and a lot of that stuff, the snow shovels and the sleds of course, were all gone.”

Mikami said additional inventory was expected late Wednesday, but road closures in other parts of the state was delaying arrival. Transportation and delivery was a complicated affair throughout the storm, in fact, as Washington Department of Transportation regulations are strict regarding how many consecutive hours a driver can work and every run took longer than expected. Mikami’s regular delivery driver wound up extending his stay on Bainbridge a bit, in the sleeper cab of his truck, complete with bed, generator and refrigerator.

School’s out, again

Bainbridge schools closed early Friday with the first snowstorm approaching, and Bainbridge High canceled weekend performances for its Winter One Acts (now planned for Wednesday, Feb. 27 and Thursday, Feb. 28).

All after-school activities were canceled, and students got snow days on Monday and Tuesday, as well.

Next week, of course, students will be out of class for Mid-Winter Break.

(School district officials will decide later if the last day of school for the 2018-19 school year will need to be adjusted. Three snow days have been built into the current school calendar, and the district can petition the state for a waiver to have extra snow days, but officials added they will know in a few weeks if the school calendar will actually be modified.)

Karen West said she and her husband, Mike Spence, hiked to the Island Village Shopping Center in the snow around 7 a.m. Saturday after a fallen tree on Ferncliff Avenue knocked out power to the neighborhood.

“We walked up to Starbucks and encountered a cheery group of workers (seven of them) who braved the snow, many coming from Poulsbo. Starbucks manager Annie Anderson said one of her workers walked 2 miles from her Bainbridge home to get to work,” West said.

Others also found a way to work.

The staff at Bainbridge Senior Living braved treacherous roads to get to the island; a carpool full of nurses and staff slid into a ditch, got towed, but still made it to work from Bremerton.

Snowy night, silent night?

Deputy Fire Chief Jared Moravec of the Bainbridge Island Fire Department said firefighters responded to 85 emergency calls from Saturday morning through Wednesday morning.

Many of those emergency calls were storm-related, including a major roof collapse at the HOPE Center on Moran Road.

Even as many citizens prepped for the worst, though, island police saw a surprisingly typical number of calls throughout the storm.

According to an official tally, from Friday, Feb. 8 through noon on Wednesday, Feb. 13, island police received 311 calls for service, 11 of which generated police reports. To compare, during the same time frame in 2018 police saw 315 calls, 30 of which generated reports. In 2017, 297 calls were placed, 24 of which generated reports.

“It felt more like business as usual to us,” Bainbridge Interim Police Chief Jeff Horn said. “Public Works, they went to a 12-hour shift, and we’re on that shift all the time. So we’re probably as efficient as we can be now with our people.”

Horn attributed the relative calmness to islanders staying put when possible.

“We’d asked people to kind of stay inside and I think they did,” Horn said. “They weren’t out on the roads and it made Public Works’ job a littler easier.”

Bainbridge Police Detective Scott Weiss, who tallied the calls, agreed.

“I think because everybody was inside and not moving around we generated less reports,” he said. “We still had some of the reports we normally deal with, but I think just because people weren’t out that much they weren’t out there to cause problems that would result in a police report.

The vast majority of calls placed during the storm, Weiss said, were regarding cars having slid off the road, dangerous road conditions and minor traffic accidents.

“It was kind of hard to get around some of the secondary streets just to drive, so luckily people weren’t calling us because they weren’t out,” Horn said. “You would almost think that with people being inside they would tend to call because people are fighting and stuff like that, but that really didn’t [happen]. I think we had one day where all of a sudden, boom, we had two domestics back to back and we were wondering if that had to do with being inside the whole time.”

Not everyone had the luxury of lying low, however.

A previously scheduled, and defiantly ongoing, public boat action taking place on Saturday saw Harbormaster Tami Allen on the public dock with a shovel working to clear a path to the goods for any would-be buyers brave enough to venture out.

None were.

“Good turnout [but] all remote bids,” Allen said Monday. “Now it is a matter of them actually coming to retrieve [the boat] after the storm. It will be fun to post a recap and where they will find new families once the transfer is done.”

Alone but not lonely, Allen had company during in her frosty endeavor. Her dog Jack Sparrow waited patiently at the land-side of the dock watching her work. Jack doesn’t like the feel of the dock’s new grating on his paws, Allen said, especially in the cold, though he was steadfast emotional support from a distance.

Plowing through

Many businesses in Winslow shut down due to the snow on Friday, as did the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum and the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art; both remained closed through Tuesday.

For BIMA, the snow meant the cancellation of the SmARTfilms: Women Making a Difference showing, and its performance of “The Vagina Monologues” was rescheduled for Friday, Feb. 22 and Saturday, Feb. 23. All of the art museum’s programs, including Meet the Artist with Alfredo Arreguin and the Black History Month kick-off celebration, were canceled.

Churches across Bainbridge, including St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, Seabold United Methodist Church and Grace Episcopal Church, canceled Sunday services.

The snow also prompted Grace to postpone its “Conversation on Race & Equity in America” with Cheryl Nuñez that had been planned for Tuesday night.

Heavy snow and what officials called “treacherous” road conditions Sunday prompted city officials to close Bainbridge Island City Hall Monday.

The city canceled planned meetings Monday evening for its Marine Access Committee and Ethics Board.

It wasn’t just drivers on snowy roadways who had trouble navigating the winter weather.

More snow on Monday prompted Washington State Ferries to cut service on the Bainbridge Island-Seattle route, with the run shutting down to one-boat service after the 11:35 p.m. sailing. Sailings were also canceled on the Edmonds-Kingston route, which was also be reduced to one-boat service Monday night.

WSF halted operations at its customer service call center due to winter weather conditions, as well, and on the Bremerton-Seattle route, two sailings of the M/V Kaleetan were canceled due to a shortage of Coast Guard qualified crew.

City officials said road conditions were “continue to deteriorate” at 4:30 p.m. Monday and asked residents to stay off the roads if possible.

Heavy snowfall led school districts across Kitsap County and Western Washington to cancel school for Monday and Tuesday.

Governments across the region also closed.

The Kitsap County Courthouse and all county offices were ordered closed Monday, Feb. 11 due to the snow, and the Kitsap Board of County Commissioners meeting planned for Monday in Poulsbo was also called off.

Garbage collection on the island was postponed until Wednesday.

The city’s Emergency Operations Center was activated Saturday, Feb. 9 and Monday, Feb. 11 to coordinate response to numerous power outages and calls for service across the island, said city spokeswoman Kristen Drew.

Public works crews for the city began working 24 hours a day, working 12-hour shifts, starting Friday, Feb. 8, to the snow event, power outages, and daily operations to keep water and sewer facilities operating.

Eight snow plows were used to clear streets during the storm, and at one point, the heavy snowfall caused multiple trees to fall throughout the island.

Drew said crews concentrated on clearing trees that were blocking roads and as the power was out, city crews focused their priorities on helping utility crews get access to downed power lines.

Dark days

Thousands of Bainbridge Islanders endured multiple days without electricity after trees collapsed under the heavy weight of snow and brought down power lines as they fell.

Puget Sound Energy said Tuesday that 1,091 separate power outages had been reported across its Western Washington service area by noon Tuesday, and that 67,771 PSE customers were without electricity.

Scattered outages on Bainbridge Island stretched from Agate Point on the island’s north end all the way to Fort Ward on Bainbridge’s southern coast.

One large outage spanned from Gazzam Lake to Point White, where more than 1,100 homes have been without electricity since just before 5:30 p.m. Monday.

Another big outage — with 1,280 homes without power — covered the area from Manitou Beach north to Rolling Bay to north of Captain Charles Wilkes Elementary.

Another 395 homes near Fay Bainbridge Park were also in the dark Tuesday, and outages were also reported in Seabold, West Port Madison, and several neighborhoods near Grand Forest East.

PSE said trees weighed down by heavy snow and ice were falling on power lines throughout the region.

“Crews are out in force restoring power to customers impacted by a new round of wet, heavy snow delivered yesterday afternoon,” PSE said on its website. “We know that this period of historic storms, freezing temperatures and resulting outages has caused significant stress and strain for our customers, some who have had their power restored only to go out again. We truly appreciate your continued patience and are doing all we safely can to get power back on as quickly as possible.”

Kitsap, King and Thurston counties were hardest hit by Monday’s snow, PSE said.

Bainbridge Island City Hall was closed Tuesday because of the weather, but the council meeting planned for Tuesday night was held as scheduled.

Reed Price, executive director of the Bainbridge Island Senior Community Center, said the senior center opened for five hours on Saturday afternoon, and also opened on the mornings of Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to share coffee, tea, fruit and pastries.

He said they served a handful of people each morning, about five to 10 folks, “who wanted to warm up, recharge their devices and catch up on the news.”

More than 800 homes and businesses on the island were still without electricity before 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, according to PSE. A total of 46 separate outages are still ongoing on the island, according to PSE.

Since the first snow last Friday, PSE said that power had been restored to approximately 327,000 customers through 3:30 a.m. Wednesday, and roughly 18,000 PSE customers were still without power.

On Bainbridge, small and scattered outages were reported from one end of the island to the other. Several outages involved dozens of homes, while in other neighborhoods, just a handful of houses were without electricity.

City officials said Wednesday that there were still more than 50 locations where trees are partially blocking the road that crews have not been able to get to yet.

No injuries were reported due to the storm, but there was one minor accident where a car slid into a snow plow, but no one was hurt.