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Next Storm Hits Northwest but Won't Slam Northeast Hard

Image: A woman clears snow near a downed tree limb after a winter storm

A woman clears snow near a downed tree limb after a winter storm Wednesday in Philadelphia. Icy conditions knocked out power to more than 200,000 electric customers in southeastern Pennsylvania and prompted school and legislative delays. Matt Rourke / AP

Yet another winter system snarled roadways in the Northwest on Thursday, but it wasn't expected to develop into the third straight mammoth storm in a week that forecasters had feared.

The sudden snowfall was blamed for a 27-vehicle pileup on Interstate 5 in southwest Washington that killed one person and totaled more than a dozen vehicles.

Traffic remained jammed for hours after the accident, which occurred about 10 a.m. (1 p.m. ET) in Clark County near the town of Ridgefield. Almost seven hours after the crash, southbound traffic on I-5 was backed up for 10 miles, the Washington State Patrol said.

"There's a lot of snow on the way for the mountains of the West" as the first of two waves of moisture from the Pacific Ocean slammed into cold air over southern Washington, Oregon and Northern California on Thursday, said Mike Seidel, a meteorologist for The Weather Channel. The second wave was expected Friday into the weekend

The Cascade Mountains of Oregon could get as much as 2 feet of new snow. As much as 8 inches could fall in more populated areas between Portland and Eugene, Ore., which will combine with unusually heavy winds to produce blizzard conditions along the Interstate 84 corridor, forecasters said.

Portland schools sent children home early on Thursday as snow and ice began covering area roadways.

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But the storms also carried some good news: For Northern California, they will bring the heaviest rain and snow of the winter so far — something the drought-stricken region desperately needs.

And as they reach the Midwest and the Northwest over the weekend, they're "going to stay separated, and both of them are going to end up being weaker as a result," Seidel said.

"It appears that this is not going to be a blockbuster storm," as forecasters had earlier feared after two storms pummeled the eastern half of the country, he said.

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The East will see some impacts, he said, "but not incredibly significant ones."

That's welcome news for the more than a million customers who lost power across the Northeast on Wednesday and for the hundreds of communities from Illinois to New England that were already scrounging to refill depleted supplies of road salt.

About a half-million customers in the region remained without power Thursday afternoon as utilities moved crews from state to state like chess pieces to get the lights back on.

Many cities have been forced to ration salt after weeks of above-average snowfall and bone-chilling temperatures have nearly depleted their stockpiles.

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In Pennsylvania, where Gov. Tom Corbett declared a state of emergency this week, the shortage is expected to cause problems for the rest of the season.

"You have to realize you're not going to see clear, bare roads all the time," Dan Stevens, a spokesman for the Westmoreland County Public Safety Department, told NBC station WPXI of Pittsburgh.