Bellingham and the rest of lowland Whatcom County got its first taste of winter to open a rainy, windy week with possibly more snow on the horizon — or another long stretch of rain.
Warmer temperatures were expected Tuesday, Dec. 7, as a storm approached that likely would melt the remaining snow that fell Monday morning, Dec. 6, coating lowland Whatcom County with an inch or more of snow, causing several crashes, delaying the start of schools, and altering bus routes.
Forecasts called for a 40% chance of rain Tuesday, with otherwise cloudy skies and high temperatures around 50 degrees, according to the National Weather Service in Seattle.
“A stronger system will approach the area by Tuesday night into Wednesday, bringing additional lowland rain, mountain snow and breezy winds,” meteorologist Maddie Kristell said in the online forecast discussion.
Gusty southwest winds between 25-35 mph were forecast for Wednesday morning, Dec. 8, and snow levels at 1,000 to 1,500 feet, meaning some of the higher hills around Bellingham could see snow.
“More impactful snow will occur in the Cascades with the passes potentially receiving 8 to 12 inches of additional snow. Those with travel plans across the passes should continue to check the forecast and monitor the road conditions,” Kristell said.
Snoqualmie Pass is about 3,000 feet and Stevens Pass is about 4,000 feet, and snow levels that low would mean snow for areas above Glacier on the Mount Baker Highway all the way to the Mt. Baker Ski Area.
Environment Canada was forecasting daytime temperatures of 40 degrees with periods of rain Tuesday and Wednesday in Abbotsford, B.C., across the border from Lynden and Sumas.
Cold, wet weather will continue through this week with several storm systems bringing mostly lowland rain, mountain snow, and breezy conditions, the National Weather Service said.
“Wintry precipitation is possible in the lowlands at times this week, with minor accumulations possible,” Kristell said online.
But it’s a storm on Saturday that has the most potential to bring lowland snow again this week, both the U.S. and Canadian weather services said.
“A broad trough lingers over the greater Northwest on Thursday (Dec. 9) with additional mountain snow and lowland rain expected. Snow levels will remain lower, still between 1,000-1,500 feet,” Kristell said online.
“The next system looks to be onshore by Saturday morning (Dec. 11) and has the indications of being another prolonged rain event,” she said.
There was too much uncertainty among the various weather models to make an accurate forecast, and meteorologists were watching it closely as far as timing, strength and whether it carried wind, rain, snow or a combination of all three, Kristell said.
Current Bellingham-area forecasts from the National Weather Service call for cloudy skies with rain through Sunday, Dec. 12.
Environment Canada was predicting periods of rain or snow for Saturday night.
Bellingham and Whatcom County residents saw their first snow of the winter season Monday as between an inch and about 4 inches fell — with larger accumulations in Blaine, Lynden and other areas closer to the U.S.-Canada border.
Bellingham schools opened on time with morning buses on snow routes Monday.
Schools in Ferndale, Lynden, Meridian, Mount Baker and Nooksack Valley started two hours late and canceled morning preschool classes.
Western Washington University was operating on a normal scheduled, WWU tweeted.
No information was posted online about Whatcom Community College or Bellingham Technical College.
Snow was falling harder and accumulating on roads in rural areas north of Bellingham by 4 a.m. Monday, especially in cities closer to the U.S.-Canada border, according to social media posts.
South and east of Bellingham, snow was lighter and began accumulating on roads about 6 a.m.
Car crashes were reported after 7 a.m. south of Lynden and near Everson, according to the emergency services app Pulse Point.
Wrecks that were blocking or partially blocking roads also were reported on state highways near Blaine and Kendall and on Interstate 5 north of Ferndale, the Washington State Department of Transportation said at its website.
WSDOT traffic cameras showed light traffic with the pavement clear of snow around Bellingham.
Cameras showed that snow was sticking to Guide Meridian near Birch Bay-Lynden Road.
Observers told The Bellingham Herald that conditions were good on streets in Bellingham, but roads were slushy through Geneva and Sudden Valley. No crashes or cars in ditches were reported.
Some Whatcom Transportation Authority bus routes were affected by snow early Monday, but were back to normal by 9 a.m., according to the bus agency’s Twitter account.
Mt. Baker Ski Area reported 3 inches of snow in the past day, after weeks of rain and warmer temperatures melted more than 3 feet of early November snow.
“We are finally seeing a change in the weather pattern, with a return to cooler temperatures,” ski area officials wrote on the website.
Heather Meadows had a 21-inch base at 4,300 feet and Panorama Dome had a 36-inch base at 5,000 feet.
About 12 inches of snow was forecast in the North Cascades, the ski area said.
“At this point we are needing about 20 inches of new snow on top of our existing base in order to be able to open parts of the ski area so let’s hope the snowfall comes in on the generous side of the forecasts,” the ski area said.