SEATTLE -- With a forecast for lowland Puget Sound snow for the first winter in four years, Seattle transportation employees in charge of snow removal attended the city's annual winter weather workshop Wednesday with an increased sense of urgency.
The Seattle Department of Transportation issued a revised winter response plan. Employees also heard from the National Weather Service, which said a current blast of warm November weather might be a warning sign of what's to come.
"We tend to have a very large high-pressure system over the west coast," said National Weather Service Meteorologist Ted Buehner referring to the 60 and 70 degree days we've seen this week. "By the time we get deeper into the winter season, that high pressure will tend to ... move further to the west, almost due south of Alaska. So we end up with a northerly flow of air coming out of Alaska and the Yukon and bringing the cold air from that region south."
The same November warm up preceded major snow storms in 1949, 1968 and, most recently 2008.
The December 2008 event turned into three weeks of below-freezing weather over the holidays combined with one snowfall after another. The city was criticized for its response, and it was considered one of the reasons then-Mayor Greg Nickels was voted out in the next election.
But a lot has changed with lessons learned from that snow. The city has gone from 34 plows to almost 60. It now uses salt instead of just sand, and drivers from other agencies are cross trained to take over plow duties if the storm drags on for more than a week.
"We believe in always being prepared," said Rodney Maxie, director of SDOT's maintenance operations. "We don't believe in taking anything for granted. So as far as we're concerned, every year, it's going to snow."
And this winter, the odds are growing.