A boat lists under the weight of a collapsed boathouse at Port Angeles Boat Haven on Dec. 29, 1996. Heavy snow from a storm that began the day before, combined with the weight of rain, caved in numerous structures across the North Olympic Peninsula. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

A boat lists under the weight of a collapsed boathouse at Port Angeles Boat Haven on Dec. 29, 1996. Heavy snow from a storm that began the day before, combined with the weight of rain, caved in numerous structures across the North Olympic Peninsula. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

White Christmas week: Snowstorm of 1996 remembered 20 years later

PORT ANGELES — Twenty years later, the snowstorm of 1996 brings back memories of a one-two punch that brought several feet of snow to Seattle and much of the North Olympic Peninsula.

It was one of Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict’s’s first years living on the Peninsula, where he never thought he’d see 2 feet of snowfall.

Snow began falling Dec. 27, 1996, and by Dec. 28, as much as two feet of snow — more than three in some areas — was on the ground.

At the time, Benedict was a patrol deputy who had to get to work.

“As I recall, I had a heck of a time getting to work because my car was a Crown Vic,” he said, adding he was among about half of the staff able to make it to work that day.

A couple or more feet of snow isn’t too memorable for Benedict, who had lived in Michigan. What was more memorable was the flooding that came the days after the storm as the weather warmed.

“The Dungeness River really flooded,” he said. “That’s what convinced the county and state to buy some of that property on the flood plane.”

“It was two storms,” in the same week, said Cliff Mass, University of Washington atmospheric sciences professor.

“There was the first one that was freezing rain in the south end and snow in the north end. The second one was snow that eventually turned to rain.”

Some 300,000 homes and businesses lost electrical power across the Pacific Northwest as ice-laden trees crashed into homes, streets and power lines during the massive storm, the Associated Press reported Dec. 29, 1996.

Structures collapsed from the weight of snow and ice. Across the Strait, Victoria reported 25 inches of snow.

Port Angeles Deputy Mayor Cherie Kidd was out of town visiting family when the storm hit, but her mother, Margaret Kidd, journeyed from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to Port Angeles.

Kidd said her mother took the last bus from Sea-Tac and was dropped off in downtown Port Angeles. Because the snow was so deep, someone had to carry her to her door, Kidd said.

“She didn’t want to travel in the holiday because of snow,” she said. “The weather report said there would be no snow and I convinced her it would be fine.”

When Kidd convinced her mother to travel, she had no idea it would be a historic snowstorm.

“I said ‘Mom it’s just going to be rain,’ ” she said.

Kidd said there were groups of volunteers going around Port Angeles shoveling snow off rooftops around town.

With that much snow, there were fears that roofs could cave in.

The National Weather Service didn’t have snowfall totals for much of the Olympic Peninsula.

The only statistic the National Weather Service had for the North Olympic Peninsula was that Sequim recorded 20 inches of snow, said Allen Kam, Seattle meteorologist.

Weather service data shows significant precipitation during the storm across the Peninsula, but doesn’t say whether it was rain or snow.

Port Angeles Mayor Patrick Downie said at the time he measured 37 inches of snow in the backyard of his Port Angeles home. He said most people will say there was a good 3 feet of snow.

“It was the classic lake affect snow,” he said. “It was our version of what happens in places like Buffalo, Cleveland, and other places along the Great Lakes.”

One key difference, he said, is that the city wasn’t equipped to handle that much snow.

He said it paralyzed the city. Even once roads were plowed, it was still difficult to get out of driveways.

“We felt pretty isolated there for a few days,” he said. “It certainly shut things down.

“Once you accepted it for what it was, it was kind of pretty in its own way.”

Downie said his wife Jayne didn’t let the snow prevent her from getting to the Port Angeles branch of the North Olympic Library System, where she worked.

“I have some memory of her trudging up the hill,” he said. “It was a lot of snow, but it didn’t prevent her from going to work.”

He recalled the city shutting down Chase Street between East Lauridsen Boulevard and East Eighth Street, where children got the chance to spend the days off from school sledding.

“That went on for several days,” he said. “School was out, so it was fun for kids to go sledding down Chase Street.”

________

Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at jmajor@peninsuladailynews.com.

A road grader-turned-snow plow leads a procession of cars down a snow-covered section of Eighth Street in Port Angeles on Dec. 29, 1996. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

A road grader-turned-snow plow leads a procession of cars down a snow-covered section of Eighth Street in Port Angeles on Dec. 29, 1996. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

More in News

Port Angeles School Superintendent Marty Brewer, second from right, speaks with members of the Port Angeles Parents for Education, on Friday about the Port Angeles Paraeducation Association strike. Assistant Superintendent Michele Olsen stands at right. (Paula Hunt/Peninsula Daily News)
District, PAPEA to pick up bargaining Sunday

Parent group presses officials for answers on strike

Instructor Josh Taylor, left, points out the workings of an electric vehicle on Wednesday at the Auto Technology Certification Program at Peninsula College. Nick Schommer, center, and Brian Selk get ready to do some testing on the electric auto’s parts from underneath the vehicle. (Dave Logan/for Peninsula Daily News)
College’s automotive technology program gets a reboot

Students can earn a certificate separate from two-year degree

Port Townsend transportation tax dollars to be put to work

Benefits district to raise $400,000 to $600,000 in first year

KEITH THORPE/PENINSULA DAILY NEWS
Retired teacher Nancy McCaleb speaks in support of striking paraeducators in the Port Angeles School District as Port Angeles Paraeducators Association President Rebecca Winters listens during a rally on Thursday at Shane Park.
About 130 rally in support of paras

District officials say funding is statewide problem

Mark Nichols.
Proposed changes to public defender caseloads could hurt rural counties

Annual limits starting in 2025 may create staffing issues

Fernando Cruz of Auburn, an employee of Specialized Pavement Marking in Pacific, cleans off a sign he used to paint a bicycle lane on Sims Way and Kearney Street, the site of the new roundabout. The workers needed at least two days of 47 degrees or above in order to paint the pedestrian crosswalks and other necessary markings. (Steve Mullensky/for Peninsula Daily News)
New bike lane in Port Townsend

Fernando Cruz of Auburn, an employee of Specialized Pavement Marking in Pacific,… Continue reading

Two-lane bypass to be installed Monday

Contractor crews working for the state Department of Transportation will… Continue reading

Twice daily bridge inspections start next week

Bridge preservation engineers from the state Department of Transportation will… Continue reading

Funding farm-to-school programs

In the 2021-2023 state budget, Washington set aside money specifically for the… Continue reading

Gus Griffin, 11, second from left, and classmates dig up weeds in one of Port Townsend’s three gardens on March 28. (Grace Deng/Washington State Standard)
Farm-to-school programs flourish in Washington

Demand from school districts outpacing state funding

Jefferson enacts 1-year moratorium on STRs

County wants to consider possible regulations for rentals