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Northwest snow hits areas outside of Seattle hardest

Time lapse video shows inches of snow falling on a city where winter is typically wet, not white.

SEATTLE -- A Pacific storm blanketed downtown Seattle in a few inches of snow but smothered other parts, especially south of the city and in the mountains, where several feet of new snow fell.

For Seattle, the storm proved less extreme than originally forecast, with the National Weather Service lowering its outlook for possible snow accumulations from up to 10 inches to around 6 inches, meteorologist Dustin Guy said.

But Olympia, the state capital, saw 10 inches by late Wednesday morning.


By midday Wednesday, 20 inches of snow already had fallen on the rural town of Rochester, just south of Olympia, said Rob Harper, a spokesman for the state Emergency Operations Center.

There were 95 accidents in an eight-hour period in Pierce and Thurston counties, which include Tacoma and Olympia, State Trooper Guy Gill said Wednesday morning. Most were spinouts.

"You need to pick a rut and stay in it. If you get off the beaten path, you're in deep trouble," Gill said. "I saw a guy in my rear mirror — I saw headlights and tail lights and headlights and tail lights again as he spun around off the road."

John Brecher / msnbc.com

Composite views of downtown Seattle as seen from the Jose Rizal Bridge on Tuesday, top, and Wednesday morning, bottom. Click the images to see a slideshow of other before and after pictures.

"For the first time in my career I had to put chains on," Gill said. "You stay in the path laid down on the freeway. You get off that, you are in trouble."

Most schools in the Seattle area were closed on Wednesday due to the storm, said Lesley Rogers, a spokeswoman for the Seattle Public Schools district.

Children took advantage of the rare snow day to sled down hilly streets, especially the city's tallest incline, Queen Anne Hill, which towers 450 feet above nearby Elliott Bay.

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View reader photos from the storm

Four inches of snow was measured at the city's Sea-Tac Airport by mid-morning, and the Seattle suburb of Bothell was blanketed with nearly 7 inches of snow, the Weather Service reported.

John Brecher / msnbc.com

This street in Seattle's Beacon Hill neighborhood is seen Wednesday morning, bottom, and a day earlier.

Alaska Airlines canceled over 40 flights departing from or arriving in Seattle as a result of the storm, the company said. Southwest Airlines cancelled six flights into Seattle early in the day but resumed all flights by mid-morning, said company spokeswoman Ashley Dillon.

The snowstorm also slowed traffic on city streets and freeways.

"There's been tons of collisions, it's been really slick out there," said Julie Startup, a spokeswoman for the Washington State Patrol.

The State Patrol responded to reports of 75 collisions and spin-outs in King County alone, which includes Seattle, between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m., Startup said.

Normally temperate Seattle is more accustomed to steady rain than snow in winter, averaging just 6 to 7 inches of snow each year, said National Weather Service meteorologist Brad Colman.

The storm also was blamed for "scattered" power outages, mostly in southwestern Washington state, Harper said.

Some 30,000 homes and buildings were without power in Portland, Ore., on Wednesday morning as trees made heavy by ice downed power lines.

NBC's Miguel Almaguer reports.

Gusts up to 110 mph were reported along the Oregon coast.

The Cascade Mountains could see 1 to 3 feet of new snow through late Wednesday, and officials warned of high avalanche danger there. Some computer models showed the Cascades potentially receiving up to 4 feet of snow, reported KING5.com on Wednesday morning.

PHOTOBLOG: Before/After photos of the Seattle snow

The snow was expected to taper off on Wednesday night, giving way to a mixture of rain and snow more typical for the region, Weather Service meteorologist Johnny Burg said.

But Harper said freezing rain could bring about additional problems in parts of Washington state.

"Freezing rain increases the chances that power lines will come down," he said.

He added the governor could later declare a state of emergency if conditions worsen.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.