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Winter cold snap closes La Conner

So much for El Nino.

The climate pattern linked to warmer than normal sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean and which led to forecasts of above average temperatures this winter went AWOL for more than a week.

A major storm swept into Skagit County last Wednesday on the heels of an arctic blast that had earlier plunged thermometers and wind chill gauges into single digits.

The result was an extended stretch of icy and snowy roads and streets that forced local business closures and pushed La Conner Schools to online instruction and cancellation of after-school programs.

Swinomish Indian Tribal Community offices also closed.

That's not all.

Power outages were reported locally due to tree limbs and snow falling on transmission lines.

The extreme weather upset normal routines, though folks in greater La Conner had managed to cope by last weekend when temperatures began to inch above the freezing point.

"Darn white stuff," Town Administrator Scott Thomas posted on Thursday. "Took me an hour longer to get to work. And I'm working from home."

The options of remote learning and working from home helped relieve stress on slick roadways. Highway 20 proved especially treacherous and was eventually closed at Deception Pass due to multiple motor vehicle crashes.

Nearby Reservation Road was among several high-volume routes that were plowed but local law enforcement urged motorists to remain home if possible.

"Enjoy the snow," advised Anacortes Police, "but try your best not to drive in it."

Unfortunately for La Conner youth, a favorite traditional winter source of fun – sledding on Whitney Hill – was nixed when Washington Street was plowed.

Children and parents expressed disappointment that no sledding opportunity was made by the Town.

Town officials had an explanation.

"We plow unless we are asked not to," Thomas told the Weekly News. "On Washington, we received complaints from residents the last time it snowed that they were afraid of running over a child when they needed to reach their home."

The school district's decision to teach remotely Wednesday through Friday was met with more widespread support. By doing so, students working online were marked present for attendance and the three snow days won't have to be made up later.

Initially it was thought in-person classes could resume Friday, which marked the end of the semester and had been scheduled as a half-day of instruction.

"Warming temperatures and rain didn't quite get us to a point where the roads are safe," school leaders said in a statement issued early Friday. "Surrounding districts are two hours late start. Two hours late start would only give us an hour and a half at school.

"By going remote," they said, "we can use the time more wisely and still keep students, families and staff safe."

By that afternoon, several hours after in-person classes would have been dismissed, roads in Skagit and Snohomish counties were deemed safe enough for the high school basketball teams to travel for games in Darrington.

Though most roadways were clear, temperatures remained well below average, hovering in the upper 20s Friday night.

Still, it was a marked improvement over earlier conditions.

Lowland roads on Wednesday and Thursday were blanketed with compact snow above sheets of ice that made driving even short distances an adventure. The freeze was so intense that outdoor water displays – as with many facets of everyday life – came to a virtual standstill.

"This cold snap," posted La Conner's Dana Miles (with accompanying photo taken in front of the Swinomish Casino and Lodge), "has caused historic Swinomish Falls to freeze up for the first time I can remember."

The Skagit County Historical Museum on Fourth Street was an early casualty of the gnarly conditions.

"That's the downside of being at the top of the hill," museum staff said in a post announcing its mid-week weather-related closure.

While wintry weather and its associated complications – from frozen water pipes to white-knuckled driving – seemed to linger last week, the World Meteorological Organization insists that El Nino has true staying power.

"The ongoing El Nino event," posted a WMO spokesperson, "is expected to last at least until April 2024, influencing weather patterns and contributing to a further spike in temperatures both on land and in the ocean."


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