2008 Seattle Snowstorm

Apparently, 2008 wants to go out with a bang. It did so in spectacular fashion in Seattle between Wednesday 12/17 and Monday 12/22 by first sending a blast of cold air down from Canada that sent temperatures dropping below freezing starting on the 14th, then dumping all the snow it could muster across the area. This was no lily-livered dusting that freaks everyone out like OTHER Seattle snowstorms – this was the real deal. No less than a foot of snow fell across western Washington, and some places like Duvall saw as much as 19″.

What follows is my story of the very interesting events that unfolded during those five days.

When it “started” on Wednesday was from the mere threat of the forecasters saying it was going to happen. This kept most of the city home, as I made it downtown in record time. But it didn’t happen. Seattle was traffic jammed that afternoon, as everyone else must’ve just come in late – but still no snow. Not until late on Wednesday night did it start, and by Thursday morning there was a 6-10″ blanket across all of western Washington and it was still coming down. After attempting to escape in Fourplay and being unable even to get out of my driveway, I stayed home.

The only thing that could get out was the snowmobuggy. Its throttle cable was stuck at full and I couldn’t get it closed, but with some starting fluid I did get it running. I rode up to the mailbox and picked up the Netflix movies, then headed off into the wild white yonder until my feet were too cold to go on. With only two power settings – full throttle and ignition kill via a button behind the steering wheel, it was a wild ride. I was repeatedly pressing on the ignition kill button to simulate throttle control.

By mid-day I dropped Dan a line and found out that he’d skipped work too; he’d been driving around in his 4WD Subie GL on studded snow tires. He went to work, but nobody else had, so he left.

He came over and brought his helmet to ride the snowmobuggy. It actually wasn’t running too well, so he used his shiny new carb-tuning skills to tweak it just enough to smooth out the idle, and took it out for a spin. Wish I’d gotten pics, it was hilarious. With the sub-freezing temperatures and Dan’s skillful tuning, it made a lot more power – exactly what it did NOT need. As if it isn’t enough that you have to have it pointed and ready for launch before you twist the key to start it, now you have to hang on for dear life while it spins itself sideways in every direction! I took it out and must’ve hit 45mph with it. For a go-kart on icy snow, that is nothing short of breathtaking.

After the fun we went to the autoparts store to get some tire chains for the Fiero, since the Corvette’s tires were just too big. Maybe I’d actually be able to get out the next day.

By Friday morning more snow had fallen, and it was up to about 8″ at my house. I didn’t use the chains. I didn’t want to risk it and was comfortably ensconced in my warm, cozy house.

Friday afternoon Dan came over to get me out of the house. We went over to the Last Frontier Saloon for burgers and beer, then Dan dropped me off at my house at 8. I called it an early night.

Saturday came and so did another couple inches of snow. Mid-day I got the snowmobuggy running and went into the woods on my favorite trails. It was just too fast and really beat me up, until it started coughing and sputtering. I quickly headed for home but only made it a quarter mile before it died completely on the road about a mile from home. I checked the fuel tank and it still had plenty of gas in it, but when I looked at the fuel filter it was dry. I checked the fuel valve and set it from “ON” to “RESERVE”, but the fuel filter didn’t fill and it still wouldn’t start. I picked it up and held it on its side in hopes that I could get the lines filled back up, but it just wasn’t happening.

I called Dan and he was with Christian, already on their way over to my place but still a half an hour away. I walked to the first house and borrowed some gas to see if it would help, but it didn’t.

By that time Dan and Christian come rolling up in Christian’s M3. He’d just gotten it back from a three-month engine-replacement ordeal, and was on snow tires that were getting him around amazingly well.

We headed back to my house and picked up some gas, tools and the tow chain and headed back to the snowmobuggy. After some tinkering we decided it wasn’t going to start and towed it back to the house behind the M3. Again, I wish we’d gotten pics as it must’ve been quite a sight. Just imagine me drafting, drifting and sliding back and forth in a go-kart behind a big black BMW.

We dropped it off at the house and decided to get food. Headed for the Fall City Roadhouse for burgers and beer.

Over dinner we got to talking about my situation and the fact that there was a wind advisory for the night, from 7pm Saturday until 7am Sunday – for 45-50mph winds with gusts up to 90mph. That’s power-line killer winds, and I had only a half-tank of gas in the generator (about 4 gallons) and six more gallons of gas in cans. If my power went out it would be bad news, so we went on the hunt for gas cans so I could stock up. We went from store to store trying to find one, but it was the same story at each one:

Home Depot: sold out.
Fred Meyer: sold out.
Lowe’s: sold out.
Costco: sold out.
Schuck’s: sold out.

I’d spent over $100 on other stuff at all those stores and still hadn’t gotten the one $5 gas can for which I’d set out.

As we were going from store to store I noticed that something about Christian’s engine didn’t feel quite right. The engine had a disturbing wobble to it around idle that I’d never felt in Dan’s M3. I asked Christian about the engine that had been installed, and he said it was from the same year car as Dan’s (’97) with 70,000 miles on it. Not knowing what’s involved in an M3 engine swap nor what was actually done, I didn’t want to rush to judgement – but I was very troubled by that wobble I felt. Seemed like the harmonic balancer wasn’t right, but it went away during normal driving. It’s probably nothing I thought, just an older engine. I didn’t want to give Christian the worries over it.

They dropped me off at home and I stuck the new Batman movie into the DVD player for a while until my doorbell rang at about 10:30pm. It was my next-door neighbor Chris, whose wife was away for the weekend so he came over to share the new Metallica CD (and hear it on my much-larger system). We jammed to that over beers for a while then headed next door to his house for some concert videos. The winds were howling at about 40mph but no major gusts yet. At a few minutes after 1am, when we were halfway through Guns ‘N Roses Use Your Illusion, the power flickered four times and then went dead. Talk about mixed emotions – as much as I hate G’N’R, it was going to be a long night without power.

Drunk and tired, I hiked the arduous 250 feet back to my house and walked into a cacophony of beeping backup batteries. I shut down everything that hadn’t already gone dead, turned off the beeping batteries, and went to bed.

Two hours later, at 3:30am, the power came back on along with all the lights that I hadn’t shut off. I was startled awake, but just turned off the lights and went back to bed.

Six hours later, after sleeping off the hangover, I powered everything back up. The 90mph winds had never come and everything was normal. I talked to Dan and he said he’d lost power at exactly the same time I had, and it was restored at the same time too. Same for another friend of ours, Glen, over in Redmond. Not sure how much further it went, but that alone is an area of about 15-20 square miles.

The plan for Sunday was for Dan to drop his Subaru at my house sometime before his 11:30pm flight to Ohio. He was going home for Christmas and New Year’s, and I was going to look after his cat and house while he was gone. We’d decided the best way to ensure that was if I had the Subie. Though I offered, Christian was going to take him to the airport that night. I figured they’d both drive to my house and he’d just drop it off on the way.

So Dan called at 5:45 to let me know he was on his way over to pick me up, take me back to his place and show me what to do to take care of things while he was gone. We made some dinner and ran through everything, then I started heading back home in the Subie at 8:15. 15 minutes into it I got a call from Dan saying that Christian’s car had broken down, so I turned around and headed back. At 8:45 I picked him up and we headed for the airport.

About halfway there I asked Dan if he’d confirmed that his flight hadn’t been cancelled. I’d been listening to the radio and heard that a lot of flights were being cancelled, and he said he’d checked online at Continental’s site and they hadn’t cancelled any of their flights yet. Unconvinced, I encouraged him to call Continental’s counter at the airport.

After 10 minutes on the phone: “Your wait time will be approximately 20 to 30 minutes. Thank you for holding.”

We’d be there by then. He hung up.

We charged down the interstate. I had the car in 4WD and was cruising comfortably at the 60mph speed limit in the center lane despite the thick layer of unplowed snow and ice on I-405. The studded snow tires had the same level of grip as normal tires on wet asphalt, and stopped normally. Only a few other cars were on the road at that hour and the Subie was amazing for the conditions.

Then Christian called and told us that AAA wouldn’t tow him, because they were only towing cars blocking a major roadway. So he needed a short tow to get the car off the road until AAA could tow it back to the shop. He was staying at Dave Cohen’s apartment until I could get back from dropping off Dan.

Upon arrival at the airport, Dan checked the status board and it showed that only two Continental flights hadn’t been cancelled, and his was one of them. He grabbed his bags and left, and I headed back up to Redmond to rescue Christian. It was now 9:45pm.

It was a 29 mile drive to Christian’s car and I got there at 10:30. He and Cohen arrived shortly after. It was near the crest of a hill, but it still had about two hundred feet to go to the top. This was going to be a challenge – trying to move 6000 lbs of combined weight up an icy hill using a 25-year-old, 4-cylinder Subaru with just 74hp!

We roped the cars together and I put the Subie in 4WD-low gear. I slowly took up the slack then paused to get the thumbs-up from Christian. I gave it a yank, but it only moved an inch or two. Felt like Christian’s brakes were still on, but they weren’t. The car was just spinning the tires.

I shut it down and paused to consider the options. The other choice was to go down the hill, which meant a longer tow. It would be a couple miles with more traffic and we’d have to go into town. It was only about a mile to the QFC parking lot going uphill. I decided to give uphill another try.

I stalled it a couple times, but finally the car pulled away with the M3 behind it. The road had a lot of ups and downs but I got it to the parking lot without incident. Then came a text message from Dan at 10:51pm:

“Don’t go to bed yet… It’s boarding time and no sign of life at the gate.”

I let him know I was enroute back to the airport and headed southwest. The traffic was a bit lighter this time, but people were driving slower. I picked him up at 11:30pm. With no idea when or even if Dan’s flight would happen, we decided to head back to my house, part ways and reconvene on Monday. Dan dropped me at my house at 12:30 and I called it a night.

I didn’t get out to work on Monday either, but made it in Tuesday and Wednesday thanks to a borrowed AWD Subaru Outback. Currently, Continental still hasn’t resumed operations at Seatac. Dan has decided to postpone his trip until the 29th, and Christian’s car has been towed to the shop for analysis. Preliminary reports have it thought to be an electrical problem, but nothing definite yet.


[kaltura-widget wid=”kldg4x9p2o” width=”410″ height=”364″ type=”whiteblue” addPermission=”2″ editPermission=”2″ /]

Update: Christian’s car fixed itself after they R&R’d the starter. Nobody really knows what went wrong with it.

This entry was posted in Blog. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *