Northwest braces for snow, but less than thought

Northwest braces for major snowstorm
Washington State Patrol cars block further passage on Interstate 90 where the pass ahead was closed Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2012, near North Bend, Wash. Snow has been falling steadily in various parts of western Washington since the weekend, but meteorologists with the National Weather Service in Seattle said that the biggest snowfall could come on Wednesday.
AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

SEATTLE - As snow started falling on Seattle Wednesday morning, the National Weather Service scaled back the amount expected in western Washington but said it would still be a significant event.

The total in the city would likely be 3 to 6 inches, meteorologist Dustin Guy says. More is likely in southwest Washington, 4 to 8 inches, while less is expected in the northwest interior, 1 to 2 inches.

According to CBS affiliate KIRO in Seattle, Cliff Mass with the University of Washington said the storm wasn't as strong as originally predicted, but lowland areas could still expect to see quite a bit of snow.

KIRO Chief Meteorologist Rebecca Stevenson added that people can expect strong winds out of the north.

On Tuesday, forecasters had been talking about 5 to 10 inches in the central Puget Sound region, 6 to 14 inches in southwest Washington and 2 to 5 in the northwest interior.

The Cascades will still get heavy snow - up to 2 feet by Thursday, Guy said. And widespread snow is forecast across eastern Washington.

A change in the storm track resulted in expectations for a lesser amount of snow in western Washington, Guy said. Temperatures are expected to rise Thursday, bringing back the rain by Friday in the lowlands.

In eastern Washington, forecasters expect 4 to 9 inches south of Interstate 90 and 1 to 2 inches north of I-90.

Snow has been falling in usually mild western Washington since the weekend, and residents braced for Wednesday's storm.

Seattle and other school districts canceled classes in advance. Transportation department crews have had trucks on the roads spreading sand and deicer.

Alaska Airlines announced late Tuesday that it canceled 38 flights into and out of Seattle and Portland, Ore. The airline waived rebooking fees for passengers traveling Tuesday through Thursday in those cities.

Several downtown Seattle hotels reported all their rooms were booked. Elsewhere, shoppers stocked up on groceries.

Bec Thomas, who lives on Camano Island north of Seattle, stocked up on bottled water and food. As her children built snowmen, made snow angels and sledded in nearly a foot of fresh snow on Tuesday, she made food that could be reheated on her wood stove.

The last snowstorm knocked out her power for a week.

"We take it very seriously," said Thomas, a fine arts photographer. "We'll probably be snowed in until Thursday."

State troopers advised motorists to be prepared.

"The No. 1 thing is to drive for the road conditions," Trooper Keith Leary said. "People need to slow down, take their time. If they're not prepared, don't get out on the roadways."

John Lee, a Mill Creek graphic designer decided to work from home Tuesday rather than face a snowy commute into Seattle, said it was "a bit exciting" because it was the first snow of the season.

But he added, "I hope it doesn't escalate to something bigger."