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Perfect storm: Snow, staff shortages and COVID cases in Whatcom County

Whatcom Public Works is operating with half the snowplow drivers it needs as two snowstorms hit the region.

WHATCOM COUNTY, Wash. — When combined with rising COVID cases and staffing shortages, the recent snowfall in Whatcom County Thursday made for a sort of "perfect storm."

The snow forced Bellingham's Brandywine Kitchen to close for an entire day before cutting back hours temporarily.

And with a foot of snow piled on the patio, there was definitely no outdoor dining.

"Even if someone was willing to sit outside I don't think I'm clearing the snow off those tables and setting them up," joked manager Christopher Burch. "That's a big ask!"

Burch said with the roads so bad, some employees haven't been able to get to work.

"We're just playing it by ear, at this point. We will be staffed as long as it's safe for our staff to get in because we want to feed people," said Burch.

Now back to regular business hours, Burch and his staff planned to turn the winter mess into an opportunity.

"There are quite a few businesses around that are closed because of the snow so if people find someone who is open they pop in just knowing they don't have to cook or maybe they have frozen pipes or something," said Burch. "We want to help."

Temperatures remained below freezing across the county Thursday and more snow in the forecast.

The climate remained so cold the Nooksack River actually froze over.

It's the same river that brought historic floods to the area just seven weeks ago and public works crews have been working almost nonstop ever since. 

They're currently working 12-hour shifts until the snow is gone and have been doing so since Christmas.

Staffing shortages and rising COVID cases mean Whatcom County only has about half the drivers it needs to plow its 1,000 miles of roads.

That means it will take much longer for side streets to get cleared.

"The official start of winter was just 10 days ago," said Whatcom County Public Works Special Programs Manager Roland Middleton. "We're in winter and we could all be doing this again in a month from now and through February. People need to prepare for that."

As Whatcom County continued to limp its way through this young winter, some, like Calvin Patterson, simply rolled with it.

The storms inspired him to take his bicycle out for a spin through the snowy streets Thursday.

"It's a rare treat here. We don't usually get it like this and when we do it doesn't seem to stick around long," he said.

Download the KING 5 app to check the interactive radar near you, as well as the latest forecast, cameras and current conditions.

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