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)

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