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Winter storm recap: How our crews rose to the challenge of major snow and ice to help Seattleites in need

Clearing a path at a Seattle Streetcar stop, First Hill Line. Photo Credit: SDOT

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Stories at-a-glance:

From snow to ice to wild winds, the weather in the Pacific Northwest has thrown us some very chilly curveballs already this winter.

Luckily, we got through it together thanks in large part to the hard work of our response crews, who worked swiftly day and night to keep key travel routes open and essential services accessible to people in need.

Join us in thanking our crews!

When a major ice storm arrived in Seattle at the end of December just before the Christmas holiday, we were ready with plans in place to help coordinate work like tree and snow removal. But the thick layer of solid ice proved to be a unique challenge. We pre-treated the snow and ice arterial network over the preceding 24 hours to help prevent the ice from bonding to the pavement. Our dedicated staff members braved challenging conditions to show up for work and salt walkways, assist stranded travelers, and keep snow routes clear. Our team covered more than 18,000 lane miles during the recent storm with plow drivers and hand crews from other City departments supporting the operation all while aiding some of our friends in King County along the way.

Read the stories below to learn about just a few of the ways our incredible crew members kept Seattle safe and moving.

A pedestrian assist on Airport Way S

During a winter storm response, our crews are at work during all hours, including overnight. Luckily, this means that sometimes they’re in the right place at exactly the right time.

Around 3 a.m. on December 22, our SDOT crew member Alex Coy was leaving a SODO facility after loading his truck with “Street Closed” signs to distribute. As he drove his snow closure route, something caught his eye and he decided to turn around to double-check what he had seen. In the pullout for a bus stop on Airport Way S, he discovered an unresponsive pedestrian in the street. Alex immediately turned his emergency lights on, used traffic control devices to close the lane and protect the person, and called 911. He and his crew chief Spencer Black, who arrived quickly at the scene, assisted emergency medical responders with traffic control to create a safe and efficient space to assist the injured person.

Despite the workload of managing the snow and ice street closure response, along with being tired from switching to the night shift, Alex remained vigilant while on duty, which ensured a positive outcome for the community member who needed help. We are grateful for team members like Alex!

Two large white trucks and two red ambulances respond to a scene at Airport Way at night. Large trees are in the background and pavement is in the foreground.
SDOT crew members and an ambulance on-scene to respond. Photo credit: Spencer Black

Keeping kidney centers open

When ice and snow arrive, keeping medical and emergency services accessible is a top priority. Our Pedestrian Program crew members mobilized quickly to visit dialysis centers throughout the Seattle area. There, they applied salt to critical access points along sidewalks and pedestrian ramps to help prevent and remove ice – returning to each site multiple times to ensure these essential locations remained open to patients.

Screenshot of a Tweet from SDOT regarding work to apply salt at a kidney center. Workers wear orange vests and safety helmets.
Photo Credit: Melissa Paulus, @SeattleDOT on Twitter

One region working together

When we heard our friends on Vashon Island were having trouble managing snow and ice on their roads due to a lack of available equipment, we were quick to extend our #OneSeattle spirit to our King County neighbors. With the help of two smaller SDOT snowplow trucks we were able to lend them, residents of the island were able to keep moving safely.

A large white truck with a snowplow attachment working to clear roads on Vashon Island. A white building and large trees are in the background.
An SDOT truck in action on Vashon Island. Photo credit: @SeattleDOT on Twitter

Helping Seattle Parks with holiday spirit

Between challenging weather and staffing shortages, City departments lent each other a hand to not only keep Seattle moving safely, but to keep a little holiday magic alive for our community. Ahead of the annual Christmas Ship sailings this year, our SDOT crew members helped Seattle Parks & Recreation pre-treat sidewalks along the sailing route so that pedestrians could enjoy this beloved display.

A bag with a candle in it illuminates the photo, with a large boat in the background.
A Christmas Ship sails on Lake Washington. Photo credit: Seattle Municipal Archives

Last but not least

Even with extensive preparation, it’s not uncommon for residential pipes and water mains to burst in extremely cold temperatures. This is exactly what happened at 31Ave NW and 90th St NW, where SDOT’s Brent Hambert and his crew were dispatched to help Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) manage and repair the break before more extensive damage could take place.

The break occurred beneath the street, releasing water onto the roadway and causing the entire street to become a sheet of ice. SPU was not able to access it with their equipment. Brent’s team was called to help remove the ice and make it passable and safe for SPU to first turn off the water mains, then do the repairs. They removed ice from 85th St NW northward until eventually the street was cleared to the water main breaks and SPU could access the area. But before leaving, Brent and his team also helped remove several vehicles that were stuck further north down the hill, leading them to decide that ice needed to be removed from the entire hill for safety. Thank you to the team for being willing to go above and beyond to keep the community safe!

Two orange cones mark a large pothole near snow and ice on a street, with parked cars in the background.
An SDOT crew member responds to a car that has slipped off the street in Seattle.
Pictured: water bubbles up from a broken water main beneath the road (top); an SDOT crewmember assists a stranded motorist (bottom). Photo credit: Brent Hambert

As we look ahead to the rest of the winter season, we’re grateful for the many hard-working crew members at SDOT and throughout the City who dedicate themselves around the clock to making sure we weather these storms as safely as possible.

Before you go…

Salt, shovels & sidewalks, oh my! It’s never too early (or too late) to prepare for the next bout of winter weather.

There’s a lot more winter on the way, Seattle. If you found yourself without essential supplies for keeping you and your neighbors safe, now is the time to get them! Remember: residents and businesses are responsible for clearing snow and ice from the sidewalks next to their property. It’s the law and the right thing to do to help everyone travel safely, especially people who have low vision or have a harder time getting around.

Check out the following resources to help you prepare for and stay safe during the next bout of winter bluster: