Snowstorm Pummels Northwest U.S.

A major snowstorm is blowing through the northwest U.S. Wednesday, dumping more than a foot of snow in some places. Seattle only got a few inches. But that's enough to close much of the city down.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Long underwear - plastic or otherwise - is in order in the Pacific Northwest today. A major snowstorm is moving through the region, piling up to a foot of snow in places where rain is the winter norm. Many roads are closed, and some flights have been canceled in Seattle and Portland. Seattle itself was spared the worst of the storm, but as NPR's Martin Kaste reports, even a few inches of snow for Northwesterners is enough to put everyday life on hold.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: The theme of Seattle is it doesn't have that many snowplows. The few plows they have, they use on the main arterials. But if you live on a residential street, you don't have a lot of options. You can try chains on your tires. You can walk. Or you can do what these people are doing.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Oh, we're - ah - cross-country skiing.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

KASTE: And there are few other options. Snow shoes, huh?

STEVE GUSTAVSON: Yeah.

KASTE: It's not that deep.

GUSTAVSON: Yeah. You know, it's the best we're going to get in Seattle, so I thought I got to try. Cool.

KASTE: What's your name?

GUSTAVSON: Steve Gustavson.

KASTE: I'm assuming you've seen deeper snow. Why do you think the city paralyzes like this when they get four inches or three or whatever this is?

GUSTAVSON: Oh, it's a combination of our complete inability to drive in it, and I think anticipation that it'll be worse than it really is because we get everything from 15 inches to two inches, warning some people just stop everything.

KASTE: It's just this wild range and who knows?

GUSTAVSON: Right. And, of course, we do have hills.

KASTE: The hills really are a challenge here - imagine four inches of snow and say San Francisco. So even chains are not that much of a help as this mail truck is finding out right now, trying to get up this hill.

(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINERY)

KASTE: But if you don't have to drive anywhere, these same hills mean the whole city is a sledding paradise.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

KASTE: Can I get your name and ask you kind of what you're doing today?

KELLY BRANCH: Yeah. Yeah. Kelly Branch.

KASTE: Branch?

BRANCH: Yeah.

KASTE: And not working today?

BRANCH: What's that? Well, we were supposed to work today, but somehow, we just didn't quite make it in.

KASTE: Strange. How does that works?

BRANCH: This is - we used to live in Michigan, and that, to be honest with you, this was nothing. This is what we call (unintelligible), so not a big deal. But around here, it shuts everything down, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

(SOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE PLAYING IN SNOW)

KASTE: So for the time being, it's a snow day in Seattle, but it won't last too long. The forecast says the temperature will rise again in the next day or so, and this snow will turn into rain. And rain, we know how to deal with. Martin Kaste, NPR News, Seattle.

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