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Storms hamper holiday travel in Wash. state

Snowstorms and icy rain plagued travelers returning home at the end of the Thanksgiving weekend in much of Washington state, and some areas were hit with power outages.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Snowstorms and icy rain plagued travelers returning home at the end of the Thanksgiving weekend in much of Washington state, and some areas were hit with power outages.

Numerous traffic accidents were reported early Monday in snowy weather around Centralia and Chehalis, about 70 miles south of Seattle. Traffic on Interstate 5 in Centralia was being detoured because of a jackknifed tractor-trailer rig, the state Transportation Department reported.

Classes were canceled Monday for nearly 13,000 students at Western Washington University in Bellingham, where Mayor R. Mark Asmundson declared a snow emergency, and practically all elementary and secondary schools throughout Whatcom County were closed.

East of the mountains, driving remained treacherous because of icy conditions in some areas, including Spokane, where police issued a warning for motorists to leave for work early and drive extra cautiously Monday morning.

By midnight Spokane police and Spokane County sheriff's deputies had logged a combined total of 131 traffic accidents, including 37 involving injuries, not including calls to the State Patrol. State troopers reported about 150 crashes across the Inland Northwest, including the Spokane area.

Heavy snow fell Sunday over the Cascade Range and lowland areas in the northwest part of the state, especially around Bellingham, about 80 miles north of Seattle and about 15 miles south of the Canadian border.

By late Sunday night there were reports of 15 inches at Custer, 12 inches at Maple Falls and 9 inches near Friday Harbor in the San Juan Islands. Gusty winds to 30 to 35 miles per hour made for blowing snow and low visibility.

Road closures also were reported in some areas.

A bit of snow was reported in the higher areas of Seattle, but near sea level it was mostly a chilly rain with temperatures in the 30s as thousands of people walked and ran in the annual Seattle Marathon.

In the Cascades, traffic slowed to a crawl on Interstate 90 _ the main east-west route across the state _ because of heavy snow on Snoqualmie Pass. The eastbound lanes were closed for about an hour Sunday afternoon while a rash of minor accidents was cleared.

"People just can't see and they were plowing into each other," Washington State Patrol Trooper Jeff Merrill told The Seattle Times.

State transportation officials estimated as many as 50,000 vehicles were trying to cross Snoqualmie Pass on Sunday.

More than 30,000 homes and businesses were without electricity for varying periods, including 25,000 customers of the Snohomish County Public Utility District and 7,200 customers of Seattle City Light.

Puget Sound Energy crews worked to restore electricity to parts of Whatcom, Island and Kitsap counties.

As of late Sunday night .8 of an inch of precipitation had fallen at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, bringing the total for the month to a near-record 15.09 inches.

The all-time record for precipitation in a month in Seattle is 15.33 inches in December 1933 at the old downtown Federal Building. Dennis D'Amico, a National Weather Service forecaster, said it was uncertain whether the additional snow flurries and rain in the forecast would be enough to break the record.

Cold and slightly drier weather was forecast for Tuesday and Wednesday.