Snowstorms paralyze coast...but some have fun

<I>DAMIAN MULINIX photo<BR></I>Julia Goetz and sister Angela stop for a taste of the powdery snow flakes as they fell on the Long Beach Peninsula last Thursday. Tina Ford, below left, holds her infant son Robert Whitten to allow him to check out the snow Thursday. The one-and-a-half-year-old's response? "Cold! Cold!" Below, Rachel Parks of Klipsan walks her dog out to the beach.

Ugly driving conditions bring most business and activities to a standstill

PENINSULA - In the classic holiday special "A Charlie Brown Christmas," as the snow begins to fall, one of the Peanuts gang suggests the others "try and catch snowflakes on your tongue, it's fun."

"It's too early," said the always skeptical Lucy. "I never eat December snowflakes. I always wait until January."

"They sure look ripe to me!" replied Linus.

Last Thursday, the Peninsula was beset with its own falling, fat flakes - which looked awfully ripe to Julia Goetz and her older sister Angela, who took a break from walking back to their home on Washington Avenue in Long Beach to stand, head tilted back with tongues extended, catching snowflakes.

But the somewhat unusual winter weather wasn't all fun and games for everyone on the Peninsula - many of whom aren't used to snow and cold.

Saturday, Dec. 27, was the beginning of the cold snap locally that has swept across the entire Pacific Northwest, with the first snow falling and sticking in the Naselle area. Another wave of snow and ice hit the entire Peninsula on New Year's Eve, causing the Washington State Department of Transportation [DOT] to increase its efforts to keep the roads clear.

"In the Naselle, Long Beach and Cathlamet areas, we've got six trucks [with plows on them] that have been out basically 24 hours-a-day since New Year's," said Naselle DOT Maintenance Supervisor Herb Messick Monday. "There's a lot to cover. We try to sand the trouble spots we know usually freeze up, but it's pretty difficult to keep up with it all. We have almost 270 lane miles of road to cover."

Those crews are looking forward to a change in weather, which is expected to come likely by Wednesday, with temperatures rising.

"They're getting some overtime and getting tired," said Messick of his crews.

But even as the snow and ice melts, drivers should still be aware of the dangers that can exist, like slush on the roads.

"People have to be aware of the conditions," said DOT Maintenance Technician 3 Ron Nanney. "We do everything we can out here, but we can only do so much."

Another group that has been doing what they can has been Pacific County Public Works, who have also been plowing and sanding roads throughout the county as strong winter weather set in over the last week.

"We've done some sanding and plowing, pretty much county-wide," said operations manager Don Larson Monday. "We've sanded on Sandridge Road periodically for the past four or five days."

Larson said that Public Works has set routes of county roads they maintain in these situations, but it can be difficult to get everything.

"It's a lot of road to try and get over every bit of it," he said.

Also trying to cover those roads are area law enforement, including Pacific County sheriffs and Washington State troopers.

"It's been slick, let me tell you," said Sheriff John Didion Monday afternoon. Didion said that as far as he was aware there hadn't been any accidents on county roads that his deputies had responded to during the cold snap, but said he was aware of several happening on state roads.

"I think they're not venturing out unless they have to," he said of area drivers.

Numerous traffic problems were reported in north Pacific County, including a jack-knifed truck on U.S. 101 Monday morning. All three north county school districts were closed Monday due to icy road conditions.

In Long Beach, newly elected mayor Ken Ramsey said that the city is in "reactive mode" following the freezing conditions. He said that the city has no snowplows, rather relying on the DOT and Public Works on that end.

Pacific Highway, which runs the length of the Peninsula, was plowed and sanded by DOT the last few days, while Public Works took care of the "back road," Sandridge. Streets within the city were left to fend for themselves as the plows stuck only to those main thoroughfares.

Other utility crews also were at work Monday and Tuesday, dealing with minor power outages and downed TV and phone cables.

According to local weather officials, it hasn't been a ridiculous amount of snow that has troubled the Peninsula, but rather the little bit of snow there was turning to ice and slush.

The Naselle Fish Hatchery, which records temperatures and precipitation for the National Weather Service, reported only receiving a few inches of snow in the last week, but below-freezing temperatures have kept things frigid.

"This morning it was 24 degrees," said hatchery manager Ken Jansma Monday. "I don't think anything's normal anymore. For this time of year, normal in January would be mostly rain. It's just the way the cold air mass has moved down from Alaska."

The Washington State University Extension Office on Cranberry Road in Long Beach reported a low of 25.3 degrees in the early hours of Monday. The Super 8 Motel in downtown Long Beach recorded a low of 24 degrees the same night - the low since the cold snap began. Kim Patten, professor of horticulture at the WSU extension office, said they did not have an official reading regarding the amount of snow that fell on New Year's Day - the heaviest on the Peninsula - but did have a guess of around two inches after melting the snow in their rain gauge.

"That would be a wild guess," he said. "It looked like it varied quite a bit where you were."

And in receiving that amount of fluffy frost, it gave some Long Beach residents the chance to have some fun.

"Cold! Cold!" was the reply of one-and-a-half-year-old Robert Whitten while checking out the snow for the first time with his mother Tina Ford Thursday afternoon. Carrying her child all bundled up in a big coat, Ford said she was rooting for the snow to fall and hopefully stick.

"Oh yes, definitely," she said. "I've lived here five years and I haven't seen snow except for last year, but it wasn't much."

Only time will tell how the weather will shape up. But if forecasts stand as they are now, it could yet spell more trouble for the Peninsula - but in a different way. The forecast is for rain and higher temperatures as of Wednesday, a mixture that could cause flooding in certain areas, including Rosburg, according to Messick. Sheriff Didion agreed with those sentiments, saying Monday that he and the rest of the county emergency management team were already planning for such a thing.

"We're trying to prepare for it the best we can. We've already got sand bags placed around the county," he said. "We're just hoping for the best and keeping our eyes on the weather forecast."

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