(This report, originally published Thursday, was substantially updated based on the latest forecast.)
Seattle faces one of its biggest snow threats in years as four to eight inches is forecast to fall Friday afternoon into Saturday. The storm is forecast to hit its stride starting Friday afternoon, and forecasters are urging residents to stay off the roads or risk being stranded during the commute home.
Seattle is now under a winter storm warning, which runs from noon Friday to late afternoon Saturday. “Travel is likely to become very difficult,” the National Weather Service cautioned.
Conditions are predicted to deteriorate quickly Friday afternoon. “Snowfall rates of 1-2 inches per hour are possible … leading to a very bad PM commute,” the Weather Service wrote in its Friday morning forecast discussion.
Forecasters throughout Seattle are pleading with residents to stay off the roads.
“If you can, work from home,” advised Cliff Mass, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington. “Use light rail if you are in Seattle. If you drive to work or school, head home early (before noon). And if you drive, park in a location that you will avoid hills.”
“School districts and employers, PLEASE take this snowstorm seriously,” tweeted the Seattle Weather Blog. “Snow will begin accumulating on roads by noon. Everyone needs to be off the roads by then.”
The snow forecasts have been enough to clear shelves across the region. It seems few Seattle residents are taking any chances.
Despite the dire warnings about Friday’s commute home, snowfall projections for Seattle were lowered from eight to 12 inches (in forecasts issued Thursday) to four to eight inches, still a hefty amount.
This amount of snow would be a major event for Seattle but unlikely historic.
Although big snowstorms are not the norm for Seattle, the region has seen major snowfalls over the course of history. Its two-day snowfall record is 29 inches, from Feb. 1-2, 1916. The largest snowfall at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, where observations are currently kept, is 24 inches on Jan. 13-14, 1950.
If the current snowfall forecast for Seattle verifies, it would be the snowiest two days there since 2017, when 7.1 inches was recorded from Feb. 5-6. That was the biggest storm since the same total fell in 2012, per the Seattle Weather Blog. If the storm surpasses that mark, the next target is Feb. 16-17, 1990, when 9.8 inches fell.
In addition to the snow, it has been super-cold lately. Chilly conditions are also set to continue.
The month is running over eight degrees below average so far in Seattle, including several days with highs in the 30s and low around 20. Below-normal conditions are in the forecast into next week, with highs expected to mainly be near freezing, along with lows in the 20s and teens.
Winds are also set to be feisty. Widespread wind gusts of 20 to 40 mph are anticipated this weekend, and some locations on the water or in the mountains may push past 50 or 60 mph, where a high wind warning is in effect.
The Weather Service warned that the combination of snow and wind could lead to blowing snow and reduced visibility late Friday night into Saturday around Seattle. Wind chills are predicted to fall into the teens.
After it seemed as if winter went missing during one of Seattle’s warmest Januaries on record, the weather pattern has suddenly reversed.
The first week of February kicked off with 2.7 inches (Feb. 3 and 4), putting the city well above the 0.4-inch average for the month. And substantially more snow could fall, even following the present storm.
The weather pattern, which Mass called “absolutely classic” for snow in the Seattle region, seems ripe to continue into next week.
Recent weather modeling is showing that additional snow events could follow this one. If anything, the latest models have trended snowier into next week compared with earlier forecasts, with several more storm systems dropping into the region out of the north. Should the forecast hold, each would have the potential to drop several inches of snow into the middle or end of next week.
If the snowfall barrage ends up occurring as predicted, the city could easily be looking at what Mass called “one of the greatest snow events in decades.”
To crack into the top 25 snowiest months on record, Seattle needs at least 11.2 inches, or 8.5 inches from where it currently sits at 2.7 inches. The snowiest month there delivered an astounding 57.2 inches to the city in January 1950. While numbers like that are still a dream in the heads of snow lovers, it is worth watching how far up the list the city climbs as this snowy stretch develops.