City preparing for snow, winter weather

Streets, sidewalks a shared responsibility

January 08, 2020 - by Amy Cloud, Communications and Outreach

Winter weather is on the way.  Environment Canada and the National Weather Service (NWS) both report that snow is expected for parts of Bellingham and Whatcom County.  According to the NWS, we could see snow this week and perhaps into next week.

To help ensure that essential City of Bellingham (COB) services, including police and fire department response, are not impacted too severely, Public Works crews have been readying City trucks, sanders and plows, as well as applying a brine solution to make streets easier to clear once snow falls.  Crews travel through the City’s six snow routes on three shifts per day laying down deicer. When the weather is cold enough, remaining dry and in the teens, crews may use Boost™ (beet juice) – which keeps ice from forming.

According to Dan Larsen, Public Works Street Division supervisor, after snow and ice are already on the streets, City crews use straight salt in the downtown corridor and around Lake Whatcom.

“We avoid sand in these areas to keep silt and dirt out of our basins and the lake,” says Larsen. On other routes crews use a sand-to-salt mixture of 1:1, consistent with Washington State Department of Transportation guidelines.  After the weather changes, all that sand must be swept up by the City.

The City’s snow routes – which cover much of the City’s 300 lane miles of streets – are arterials and some secondary arterials, highly traveled routes and those essential for Police, Fire and Whatcom Transportation Authority (WTA)  and Bellingham schools. That means that secondary and some residential streets will be untreated and likely slippery.

As a reminder to drivers:

  • Prepare yourself and your car, including clearing your windshield and all vehicle windows;
  • Allow extra time and stopping distance;
  • Drive for the conditions, with slower acceleration and at lower speeds; and
  • Use your headlights (to help other drivers see you).

It is important for City residents to know:

  • It is your responsibility to clear sidewalks abutting your property (COB does not provide snow and ice control for sidewalks);
  • Stay home if you don’t need to be out. It’s safer with fewer people on the streets, especially for those not comfortable in snow and ice;
  • If you’re not able to stay home, consider taking the bus. For Whatcom Transportation Authority (WTA) routes and schedules, visit or call (360) 676-7433.

For more information on the City’s protocol for street preparation and plowing:

  • Winter weather protocols
  • Plowing typically starts when snow begins to accumulate and is forecast to continue;
  • Four-lane roads initially have only one lane plowed in each direction with additional lanes open as time and conditions permit; and
  • Access to side streets are cleared only after the priority routes are completely cleared.

For more information on City of Bellingham winter preparations, email or phone (360) 778-7700.

FAQ and more:

How much sand, salt and brine does the City have on-hand?  Are you able to get more if needed?
We currently have about 1,500 tons of salt plus 20,000 gallons of salt brine and 5,000 gallons of Boost (beet juice) on hand. That’s enough for roughly four weeks of snow.  More is available on stand-by.

Does the City use chemicals for de-icing?
The chemical that some are worried about for snow and ice removal is Magnesium Chloride – which the City does not use because it’s not good for fish or streams.  We have never used it and won’t. We are all-natural, i.e.  salt, sand and water.

How do you decide whether to use salt versus sand? 
The main problem is sand is that it doesn’t break down the ice, it just sits on top. Salt will break down the ice. Also, sand will clog the pervious concrete, which means water filtration can’t happen.  And sand carries phosphorous, which we’re trying to keep out of Lake Whatcom – our drinking water source.

Media Contact

​Amy Cl​oud, Communications & Outreach
City of Bellingham – Public Works or
(360) 778-7912​

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