Seattle awoke Friday in a glaze.
A night of freezing rain left the world covered with a glimmering sheen of ice, sparkling beneath a pale-gray sky. The ice enveloped roads, sidewalks, trees, cars.
A quarter-inch of frozen water ground the region to a halt.
“Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone,” the 19th-century poet Christina Rossetti wrote.
Transportation — moving by any means — was all but impossible.
King County Metro shut down all its buses. So did Pierce and Snohomish counties. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport briefly closed all three runwaysan “unprecedented” situation. Paine Field closed. So did Highway 2 over Stevens Pass. Garbage pickup was canceled. Museums, theaters, libraries, the zoo, the aquarium: all closed. Doctor appointments moved online.
“Stay home if you can,” King County Executive Dow Constantine tweeted. “Please don’t go viral on TikTok trying to drive on the ice.”
People didn’t listen. Roads and sidewalks, while much emptier than usual, were still scenes of mayhem. Cars, even stationary ones, slid like spinning tops down Seattle’s hilly streets. The ice should melt soon but that’s cold comfort to the emergency responders dispatched to hundreds of ice-related incidents throughout the day Friday.
From noon Thursday to 9 a.m. Friday, the Washington State Patrol responded to 253 collisions, disabled vehicles and spinouts, just in King County. On Thursday and Friday, four State Patrol cars were hit by other cars while they were stopped and responding to collisions. The Seattle Fire Department responded to 233 calls for slip-and-falls and other weather-related incidents by 5 p.m. Friday.
UW Medicine saw about 70 ice-related injuries throughout its hospital system by midafternoon Friday, a spokesperson said, mostly from people who slipped and fell. At Providence Swedish’s First Hill hospital, half of all emergency room patients were there because of falls on the ice, a spokesperson said.
King County Metro canceled all bus service until 4 p.m., and then it resumed on emergency routes only, about 40% of regular service. It was the first time Metro canceled all bus service since 1996, when a snow and ice storm stranded 250 buses on hillsides and in snowbanks.
Sea-Tac reopened one of its three runways Friday morning, but had still seen more than 670 canceled flights by late afternoon, according to the flight tracker FlightAware. Washington State Ferries suspended some routes, reduced service on some and shuttered others early.
By midafternoon Friday, Puget Sound Energy reported 76 power outages affecting more than 7,500 customers. In Snohomish County more than 3,100 customers were without power early Friday evening.
On KEXP, DJ Lisa LeClair’s morning playlist included tracks like “Age of Ice,” “Jesus I’m Freezing,” and “Sister Winter.”
The storm, the most significant ice event in the region in at least a decade, according to the National Weather Service, was caused by the collision of cold air that had been hanging over Western Washington with a storm system moving inland from the Pacific.
The storm brought precipitation, but also warmer air than had been here all week, when temperatures had been well below freezing.
“As it moves into that cold air mass, it doesn’t displace it all at once,” said Kirby Cook, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Seattle. “So you get rain falling on very cold surfaces and it freezes pretty much instantaneously.”
The good news: The ice should be mostly gone by Saturday.
Temperatures will warm to the 40s overnight and the 50s by Saturday afternoon, Cook said, melting the ice and unfreezing and unlocking travel.
The exception: mountain passes, which will continue to see freezing rain through Saturday, Cook said, making cross-state holiday travel slow and dangerous.
For those who did venture out Friday, even arriving safely at their destination was no guarantee of safety.
Early Friday morning, a contractor arrived to work on a house across the street from Rachel Ramstad’s Ballard home.
He parked his F-150 pickup facing uphill — she lives on a slight grade — and properly curbed his wheels, turning them away from the curb.
Cars parked overnight were firmly planted on the pavement. His truck was not. It was on the ice. And his tires “were a little on the bald side,” Ramstad said.
Within 5 minutes, it started sliding, 10 to 12 feet down the hill until it hit Ramstad’s car. The bumper “sort of embedded in the hood.”
They eventually got the truck moved and the contractor has been nothing but nice and apologetic, she said.
The damage to the car remains TBD.
“It was a no-humans-involved crash,” Ramstad said.
Walking was safer than driving, but not necessarily easier.
Peyton Eaves and Elliott Guenther gingerly shuffled along the sidewalk in front of their Loyal Heights home Friday afternoon.
Moving quickly — out. Big steps — no. Just lifting your feet off the ground — not advisable.
They were trying to figure out if it was safe to walk their dogs, Peter and Todd, two “German shepherd mutts.”
The verdict: A resounding “no.”
They’d tried early Friday morning, around 6 a.m., to just let the dogs out to relieve themselves, but that hadn’t worked, either.
“They almost fell down the stairs and I’m like, ‘It’s not that bad,’” Guenther said. “Then I took one step out, and I’m like ‘I’m so sorry!’”
The streets, for much of the day, were a literal skating rink. Yes, we are using the word “literal” correctly.
Tom Fucoloro, editor of Seattle Bike Blog, ditched his wheels for blades Friday morning. He laced up an old pair of hockey skates and cruised around his Wallingford neighborhood for a few hours.
He skated to a friend’s house. The ice was thin, so he broke through in spots. But he found a flat, smooth stretch on First Avenue North and broke out a stick and puck for some sidewalk stick-handling.
He passed a car that had spun out. People were trying to push it back to the curb. But they couldn’t get traction; they couldn’t push.
“They could barely stand up,” he said. “I was the only one who had traction.”
He put his shoulder into the car, “doing like a hockey body check,” and it slid across the street to the curb.
“Don’t drive,” Fucoloro said. “For real. It doesn’t work.”
Seattle Timit istaff reporters Grace Gorenflo, Greg Kim, David Kroman and Elise Takahama contributed to this report.