With temperatures in normally mild Seattle dropping well below freezing, Kaety West walked a short distance in the snow from the tent where she usually stays to find refuge at a small warming centre at an American Legion hall.
“I’m not even willing to stay in it right now. It’s just so difficult,” West said of her tent on Monday.
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Across western Washington state and Oregon, officials and private groups opened emergency spaces for people to find refuge as forecasters said extreme cold from an arctic blast could last until the weekend.
Snow showers blew into the Pacific Northwest on Sunday from the Gulf of Alaska, dumping up to 15 centimetres (six inches) across the Seattle area and snarling traffic throughout the greater Seattle and Portland areas.
The National Weather Service said Seattle’s low Sunday was -6.7 C (20 degrees F), breaking a mark set in 1948. Bellingham, Washington, was -12.8 C (9F), 1.7C degrees colder than the previous record set in 1971.
State officials in Oregon have declared an emergency. In Multnomah County – home to Portland – about a half dozen weather shelters were open. Seattle city leaders also opened at least six severe weather shelters and the mayor declared an emergency. Utilities reported about 5,000 customers without power on Monday in western Washington and Oregon.
Earlier this month, severe, abnormal weather in the central United States spawned deadly tornadoes that killed dozens. Last year, unusually hard winter weather gripped the central US, killing at least 20 and knocking out power to millions.
At the shelter in Seattle where West went to get warm, American Legion Hall Post 160, there was room for about a dozen people.
Keith Hughes of the American Legion said capacity was limited by a lack of volunteer staff.
“Volunteers, this is a problem for myself as well as everyone else in town, it’s really hard to get with COVID going on,” he said, adding there were plans to keep the space open for about 10 days.
The last time the Legion post opened its doors long-term as a warming centre was three days, Hughes said.
“The longer it goes on, the harder it’s going to be on people that don’t have a place to get out of this,” Hughes said. “We’ll just keep helping people as much as we can help them.”
Farther south, blowing snow in the mountains of northern California and Nevada closed key highways, with forecasters warning that travel in the Sierra Nevada could be difficult for several days.
More than 93 thousand people in northern and central California were without power on Tuesday, according to poweroutage.us which tracks power cuts.
At Donner Pass in the Sierra, officials with the University of California, Berkeley’s Central Sierra Snow Laboratory said recent snowfall has smashed the snowiest December record of 4.6 metres (15 feet), set in 1970. The record is now 4.9 metres (16 feet) and more snow is expected.
The Northstar California Resort in Truckee closed its mountain operations amid blizzard conditions. The ski resort had received more than 1.8 metres (six feet) of snow during the last 48 hours, according to the resort’s Facebook page.
Snowpack in the Sierra had been at dangerously low levels after weeks of dry weather but the state Department of Water Resources reported on Monday that the snowpack was between 145 percent and 161 percent of normal across the range with more snow expected.
In Nevada, freezing air and blinding snow blasted across the northern part of the state, affecting travel and business, closing Sierra Nevada highway passes, delaying airport flights and shutting state offices.
Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak ordered nonessential state workers other than public safety and corrections personnel to remain home due to the storm.
The storms that have been pummeling California and Nevada in recent days brought rain and snow to Arizona. A record inch of rain in one day was reported at the airport in Phoenix on Friday when 28cm (11 inches) of snow fell at the Arizona Snowbowl ski resort just outside Flagstaff.
More storms were expected to hit the desert state and continue throughout the week, and snow was again expected in the greater Portland area through Tuesday.