City and County ready for snow as schools take a wait and see approach
By GREG SKINNER, KRISTIN OKINAKA AND JJ SWANSON
Bremerton Patriot staff
January 17, 2012 · Updated 4:49 PM
People throughout Central Kitsap and Bremerton are generally hesitant to believe that by tomorrow night, 5 to 10 inches of snow will cover the ground.
"Fingers are crossed," said Bremerton Mayor Patty Lent. "We're hoping to escape [the snow]."
Lent, chair of The Kitsap County Department of Emergency Management, said Bremerton will be prepared for whatever comes of the first major storm of the winter.
"This is going to happen," National Weather Service meteorologist Johnny Burg said Tuesday of the pending storm.
With 12 hours to go before the expected arrival of the storm, Burg said the forecast's certainty was solid and the only question remaining is when the warm up will begin and with it, the potential for street flooding. Right now it looks like the warm up will come Thursday, he said.
The NWS has issued a winter storm warning for Silverdale and Bremerton beginning at midnight tonight running through midnight Thursday. Burg said Bremerton and Silverdale can expect 5 to 10 inches of snow starting in the early morning Wednesday and ending sometime later in the evening.
Neighborhoods at sea level and near the generally warm waters of Puget Sound might see the lower end of the forecast and the amount of snow in areas in the higher elevations up near Anderson Hill Road and Kitsap Lake could see 10 inches.
The area is likely to see up to 2 inches this afternoon and evening before a lull in fronts passing through the area.
Though the NWS is holding onto the 5 to 10 inch forecast, University of Washington Atmospheric Scientist Cliff Mass said in his Tuesday morning blog update that the latest forecast modles show less snowfall around Puget Sound. Mass called for a 2 to 6 inch storm, with the most falling on the South Sound, but said the storm was proving to be difficult to forecast.
A warm wet front is overtaking stationary cold brought down from Canada when the jet stream shifted south early this week. The balance of prediction is difficult because everything has to line up just right for the lowlands to get heavy snow.
Kitsap County road crews have been moved to a 12 hour-on, 12 hour-off work schedule to ensure that they are available around-the-clock during the forecasted storm. In central Kitsap, eight county plows will work to open roads. They will join the Bremerton's seven plows as they try to keep hills, arterials and school routes open.
"This particular event looks like it will encapsulate the whole county, so we're all in," said Doug Bear, spokesman for Kitsap County.
Bear explained that county road crews spent the weekend pretreating the 940 miles of county-maintained roads with salt brine mixture in preparation. After the storm hits, trucks will enter a plowing and sanding rotation starting with "priority one" roads for the first 36 hours.
"It can get pretty dicey," Bear said. "We do our best, but we can't get everywhere, that's why we designate priority routes first."
Priority one routes include commercial zones and emergency routes throughout the county.
At the Bremerton School District, officials weren't doing anything out of the norm, said Patty Glaser, district spokeswoman.
Glaser said that the district has trucks "at the ready" with sand and rock salt for the parking lots of schools and that the school buses have chains if snow falls and accumulates on the ground.
But for now, it's a wait-and-see approach.
"Right now none of our schools have snow," she said Tuesday morning. "We'll just continue to watch the weather."
The district makes decisions on school delays or cancellations by 5 a.m. Sometimes depending on what is happening with the weather, the decision may be determined as late as 5:30 a.m., Glaser said.
Notifications are posted on the district website and the news and information line, (360) 473-1002, will have updated announcements.
Despite the possibility for school closures due to snow, students are rarely dismissed early due to inclement weather if the school day has already begun.
"It would have to be an extreme emergency," said Glaser, adding that even if students were dismissed early, there is a high chance that there would be no parents home early.
Most are doing their best to prepare, but the game now is to just wait and see what actually happens.
"It's not the first potential snow storm, it's not going to be the last," said Glaser.
The same goes for city employees. Essential employees are require to show for work during the storm, according to city attorney Roger Lebovich. Non-essential employees can decide for themselves if they show or not, but if they stay home will have to take a vacation day or not get paid, he said.
Bremerton Police Chief Craig Rogers said his people were ready with vehicles chained up and prepositioned. Snow depth will be the main concern for police, he said.
Fire Chief Al Duke said the real issue will be a the weight of the snow, which is likely to down power lines.
"Be prepared to be without power," Duke said.
In the morning if the story is as bad as predicted the fire department will send out single vehicles to most calls rather than their usual protocol of two, Duke said.
At Olympic College in Bremerton, notifications of any delays or closures are made as early in the morning as possible, said spokeswoman Jennifer Hayes.
Methods to get the word out include updates to the college's website, a text messaging service and email notification to all students.
"Because of the state of weather, we try to let people know we're monitoring on a regular and on-going basis," said Hayes. "It can really change quickly."
The college has a crew on standby with snow removal equipment and de-icer should snow begin to fall in Bremerton, said Hayes.
The Central Kitsap School District also continues to monitor road and weather conditions. All of Tuesday's in-district activities remained scheduled but all out-of-district activities were canceled, said David Beil, district spokesman.
Beil said during the 5 o'clock hour, the district will make a determination and announcement in the morning regarding whether there will be any school delays or closures.
The district's first of three community budget meetings that is scheduled from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday at Klahowya Secondary School remains as planned, Beil said Tuesday afternoon.
But, just as in Bremerton, the Central Kitsap School District's maintenance department will be equipped with ice melts and chains for school buses — should snow arrive in Kitsap. Most are doing their best to prepare, but the game now is to just wait and see what actually happens.