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Winter blast blankets Valley in snow

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SNOQUALMIE VALLEY - Businesses shut down, students received a couple of extra days off and the flashing lights of the sanding trucks and snowplows were a common sight as a winter storm blanketed the area with snow last week.

A blast of arctic air caused temperatures to drop into the 20s on Sunday, Jan. 4, and continued to chill the Valley through mid-week. Residents were greeted with fresh snow when they awoke the morning of Jan. 6, causing the Snoqualmie Valley School District to cancel school for two days and forcing many residents to take time off from work due to poor road conditions.

Although the rest of the region appeared on the road to recovery by the morning of Jan. 7, high winds and freezing temperatures found Valley residents waking up to as much as six inches of snowfall in places. Snow drifts in downtown Snoqualmie caused many merchants to close their doors, while others in North Bend followed suit. State officials were forced to close Department of Licensing offices across the state, including North Bend, leaving those waiting to take driving tests with another week before receiving their licenses. Driver's licenses didn't do many Valley residents much good as numerous cars were trapped by drifts and rendered unusable until the snow melted or was shoveled away.

Puget Sound Energy reported that the frigid air in the Puget Sound region on Jan. 4 resulted in 636,000 customers of the company with natural gas setting an all-time record for use.

Natural gas customers used 716,000 MMBtu (million British thermal units) of natural gas over a 24-hour period, breaking the old record of 678,00 MMBtu set on Dec. 21, 1998.

Despite the closure of many businesses, many remained open. Local hardware stores reported solid sales of heaters and a run on snow shovels, while the Salish Lodge and Spa reported no significant drop in occupancy.

"We're OK, we're just trying to dig ourselves out of the snow," said Brianne McDougall, who works the front desk at the Salish.

The biggest snow-related problem at the Salish was trying to dig the cars in the valet lot out of the snow that had accumulated, McDougall said.

Downtown North Bend became a haven for truckers waiting to get back on the road Jan. 7 when Interstate 90 between North Bend and Ellensburg was closed due to high winds (35 mph), slush and low visibility.

Despite the icy road conditions, Valley public safety officials reported no major accidents or injuries.

"It's been a pretty good storm as far as people not getting hurt," said Snoqualmie Police Chief Jim Schaffer.

Added assistant chief Ed Crosson: "All we have done, most of the night, is pull people out of snow drifts."

North Bend Chief of Police Sgt. Joe Hodgson, of the King County Sheriff's Office, said the major problem that occurred at the height of the storm wasn't weather related.

Hodgson said on Jan. 7, a semi truck attempted to make a right turn off North Bend Way, despite a posted sign stating it was not permitted, and swiped the front of a building.

Near TravelCenters of America Seattle East, formerly known as Ken's Truck Town, there was at least one minor "low speed" accident in which a truck slid into another, but no major accidents were reported within the city during the storm, according to Hodgson.

Although inconvenienced, many residents took the storm in stride, including Cara Franklin and John Kirk, who along with their dog Oden, traversed the snow-covered streets of downtown Snoqualmie at the height of the storm to pick up food and supplies.

"It's too cold," said Franklin. "We're lucky - we haven't had any heat or power problems."

For many, including Franklin, it wasn't the snow that caused concern, but rather what would happen when it melted.

"What I'm worried about is the flooding," said Franklin.

Travis Peterson can be reached at (425) 888-2311 or by e-mail at travis.peterson@valleyrecord.com.

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