City of Bellevue prepares for snowy weekend

Weather forecasters this week predicted snowfall in Bellevue for Friday and Saturday.

Icy roads are also likely throughout the weekend as rain and melted snow could freeze when temperatures dip into the 20s, as expected on Saturday and Sunday night.

City utilities crews say they are be prepared to work around the clock if necessary to clear roads.

Snow is most common in Bellevue south of I-90, where elevations reach as high as 1,500 feet in some parts. Most neighborhoods in the city are below 500 feet.

Forecasters projected snowfall on Friday night at 400 feet, with an 80- to 90-percent chance of precipitation.

Rain and snow showers were expected to follow on Saturday, with a nighttime low around 28 degrees.

Those conditions present a perfect-storm scenario in which snowy streets could turn icy at variable times, particularly Sunday morning.

Drivers need to remain vigilant until temperatures stop hovering around freezing, according to Bellevue Assistant Utilities Director Mike Jackman.

“You can have wet streets that form black ice,” he said. “Ice can be far more dangerous than snow. People need to slow down, especially in shady areas and underneath overpasses.”

The city provides updated news during extreme weather events through the “Extreme Weather Response” link on its web site (www.bellevuewa.gov).

Bellevue Utilities has also held four open houses this year to help residents prepare for winter driving.

The keys to avoiding an accident are slower speeds, longer following distances, and canceling unnecessary trips, according to the city. More vehicles means slower plowing as streets get backed up and people eventually abandon their cars.

“It's a domino effect of problems,” Jackman said. “It handcuffs our ability to handle snow events if it happens during a commute.”

Jackman recommends that residents stay at work longer or do their jobs from home if possible.

“The question you have to ask is: if it's snowing, do you really need to be going?” he said.

The Bellevue utilities department has 14 trucks with plows and sand dispensers to help keep roads clear. The city fleet includes eight 5-yard dump trucks for flat roads and six four-wheel-drive pickups for navigating hillier areas.

The city can also apply an anti-icing agent to prevent water from freezing on the roads.

Salt is used in many parts of the country to prevent ice ups, but the substance creates runoff that is harmful to salmon. Bellevue utility crews use a calcium chloride compound that is less damaging.

“We try to use it as little as possible, but safety comes first,” said Bellevue Street Maintenance Superintendent Judy Johnson.

Utilities crews service arterials and emergency routes first before moving onto side streets. A map of prioritized roads is available at the city's web site.

“Without this information, people don't know how to plan and find routes that are serviced and driveable,” Jackman said.

Bellevue resident Ann Dunlap attended one of the utilities open houses with her husband, Bow Bowman.

“I think because we have a small amount of snow on this side of the mountains, it becomes deceptive,” she said. “People don't think we'll be impacted, but the snow doesn't ask whether it can come. It just arrives.”

Dunlap and her husband had to park downhill from their home one year after a snowstorm hit while they were grocery shopping.

“We had several hikes up the hill with our groceries,” she said.

The Red Cross recommends wearing layered clothing, hats, mittens, and waterproof, insulated boots to avoid frostbite during cold-weather

The agency also suggests keeping winter-storm survival kits in vehicles and filling up with gas to avoid ice in fuel tanks and fuel lines.

Joshua Adam Hicks can be reached at jhicks@bellevuenews.us or 425-453-4290.