Winter Weather Preparation

​Bellingham, like much of the Puget Sound region, is somewhere in between long, icy winters and rarely experiencing snow. Significant snowfall in an “in-between” area like Bellingham always raises questions about appropriate levels of snow-related services. When should the City plow streets, and which ones come first? How much snow equipment should the City own? What responsibility do community members have for taking care of themselves and their property when it snows?

City Services

The City’s Public Works Department personnel monitor winter conditions from several facilities that are staffed 24 hours a day. The City responds to snow and ice events as best as possible using seven large sanders and plows and two anti-icing trucks.

Priority for plowing is based on safety concerns, focusing on major hazard areas, main arterials, and some secondary arterials, including routes that are essential for Police, Fire, Whatcom Transportation Authority (WTA) buses and Bellingham schools. Within this priority system, routes typically cleared first include Alabama Street, Meridian Street, Cornwall Avenue, Old Fairhaven Parkway, and the downtown Central Business District. Side streets are addressed only after the priority routes are completely plowed, salted and sanded, which means that some residential streets may be slippery or difficult to access during snow and ice events.

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Snow plow clearing snow from roadway at night.
City snowplow removing snow from roadway at night.

When weather conditions predict snow, plows are installed on seven trucks. As the snow falls, crews begin pushing snow to the edges of the roadways. The City’s policy is to begin plowing when snow has accumulated a couple of inches and snow is forecast to continue, or when wind and weather conditions are severe enough to begin earlier. Four-lane roads initially have only one lane plowed in each direction with additional lanes open as time and conditions permit. Access to side streets will be cleared only after the priority routes are completely plowed.

Crews sand roadways when they are icy or during snow removal, using a mixture of 80% sand and 20% salt.* Crews use only salt (no sand) on the streets in the downtown corridor and around Lake Whatcom to prevent sand from washing into critical habitats.

*Any sand added to the streets is cleaned up by the City crews later so that it doesn’t end up in the storm drain systems, and ultimately the streams or the bay. Crews work hard to find the right balance, making sure that there is enough sand for traction in difficult areas, but not too much.

When possible, an anti-icing solution made of liquid salt is applied to streets in advance of snow and ice. When snow is expected, crews travel through the City’s 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) to keep ice from forming.

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Your Responsibility

Winter weather can be dangerous. Please take precautions to protect yourself and our community by avoiding unnecessary travel, clearing sidewalks near your home, preventing frozen pipes and reporting issues to Public Works. These tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) can also help you prepare for winter storms and cold temperatures.

Unfortunately the City is unable to de-ice and plow all residential streets during winter storms until priority streets have been completely cleared. Because of this, it is important that community members avoid unnecessary trips during inclement weather. Doing so will also help the City’s plow operations run more efficiently, since stranded vehicles can significantly delay this work.

If you must travel during inclement weather, please follow the Washington State Department of Transportation’s (WSDOT) Winter Driving Tips and give snowplow drivers plenty of space on the road:

Graphic showing a snowplow driver's visibility to emphasize the importance of giving snowplow drivers space. Drive slowly, avoid blind spots, increase your following distance, and never pass a plow the direction it's pushing snow.

The following resources may also be helpful:

The City does not provide snow and ice control for driveways or public walkways. Snow and ice control for these areas is the sole responsibility of the abutting property owner or tenant.

A little preparation can go a long way in preventing frozen pipes and is especially important if you are planning to leave town for the holidays. If you do experience a pipe burst and are unable to find your water shut-off valve, call the City’s Public Works Department at (360) 778-7700 to have your water shut off at the meter. Learn more about how to prepare your water pipes for cold weather.

Use SeeClickFix from your desktop or mobile device to report non-emergency issues to Public Works, including flooding and drainage issues and areas that need snow and ice removal.



Phone: (360) 778-7700

Public Works Contacts