Snow and ice
Winter weather brings challenges for transportation in King County. The county’s resources to plow and sand roads have been significantly reduced since the region’s last major snow storm in 2010. Many roads in unincorporated King County that were plowed or sanded then are no longer primary snow routes. There is a greater chance you could become snowbound or disconnected from the road network.
Check your snow route
Will your route be clear this winter?
Primary routes for plowing and sanding in a countywide snow and ice event
Why are there fewer snow routes?
King County crews respond to weather events that affect the bridges and roads of unincorporated areas – the network that keeps communities connected. In past years, the county was able to plow and sand critical snow routes. But the county is no longer funded to plow and sand as much as it used to.
Average assessed residence value in unincorporated King County fell by almost 40 percent after the recession from 2009 to 2013, and future growth in revenues is limited by state law. Estimates show that it would cost $350 million annually over 10 years to fully address the current backlog of needs and bring county roads into a state of good repair. Forecasts say the county will generate $90 million annually under the current revenue structure – a structural funding gap of $260 million a year.
With fewer resources, the county had to dramatically reduce service levels for maintaining roads and bridges in unincorporated areas, and cut back on plowing and sanding services.
Reduced resources mean that the miles of roadway that are treated in a major winter storm will be reduced by more than half from just a few years ago. The county used to plow and treat 30 percent of county-managed roads, but this year there are only resources to plow 15 percent of the county's 1,500 miles of roads.
Learn more about Road Services future and what's at risk.
Resources for emergency preparedness
The following websites provide emergency preparedness tips:
- Office of Emergency Management Take Winter by Storm
- Office of Emergency Management preparedness
- Public Health emergency preparedness
- Washington State Department of Health cold weather tips
- Regional Public Information & Notification emergency alerts
- FEMA basic protective actions
- American Red Cross preparedness tips for seniors
The following links are to .pdf files from the Washington State Department of Health:
Driving in snow and ice
- If bad weather is predicted, check the forecast before heading out and adjust your travel plans if you can. If possible, consider postponing your trip.
- When traveling, be aware of ice hazards, especially on shaded roadways, bridges or in high elevation areas prone to freezing. Be on the lookout for black ice as well as snow.
- If you must abandon your car during a snowstorm, pull as far off the road as safely possible to avoid blocking other vehicles and snow removal equipment. Cars left in travel lanes may be towed and impounded.
- When key roads are closed due to snow and ice, access to communities can become severely restricted. Monitor road closures in your community and have a family back-up plan in case you are not able to get home.
- Equip your vehicle with all-season tires and carry tire chains.
- Dress for the weather in case you become stranded and have to walk.
- Use caution when following a snowplow or sander by allowing at least two car lengths distance.
- Allow ample time to reach your destination.
- Sign up for Road Alerts to receive timely information about road closures or hazardous conditions.
Frequently-asked questions about snow and ice response
Plowing public roads is dangerous work. Crews need to be proficient in avoiding a variety of hazards, including extreme weather conditions, out-of-control vehicles on slippery roads, abandoned vehicles, children playing near or in the road and steep terrain. With fewer resources, there are only half as many crew members available to provide snow response as the last time there was a major winter storm.
Second, there are a very limited number of individuals in the region who are licensed and trained to drive snowplows on county roads under dangerous conditions. The employees who do this work are intimately familiar with county road conditions, hazards, and snow routes, and are experienced in driving graders or 10-yard trucks with plows, sanders, and ice treatment equipment attached. The unpredictable nature of winter storms, the scarcity of licensed and trained workers, and the limited nature of this work combine to make hiring a seasonal workforce challenging.
Communities should not expect that roads other than primary snow routes will be plowed and sanded in a countywide snow and ice event. The county works with first responders to clear routes when there are extraordinary public safety issues, but otherwise the county is not likely to have the resources to get to additional roads. Travelers are advised to plan ahead before venturing out during a storm.