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Updated Sunday, December 16, 2012 at 05:27 PM

High-wind watch issued as big storm is about to hit

By Sandi Doughton
Seattle Times science reporter

The first major storm of the season is headed for Western Washington on Sunday, with gusts of 60 mph possible and up to 4 feet of snow in the mountains.

"This will be our strongest storm yet this year," said National Weather Service meteorologist Johnny Berg.

The Weather Service issued a high-wind watch for the coast and Puget Sound areas that extends into Monday morning. But the exact areas that will be affected depend on the storm's track, which is still uncertain. "It's kind of a 'Hey, watch out. This could happen,' " Berg said.

The forecast calls for sustained winds of 25 to 35 mph in places, beginning Sunday afternoon. The wind could cause power outages, topple trees and damage structures, the Weather Service warned.

On his weather blog, University of Washington meteorologist Cliff Mass says the storm will be powerful, but won't approach the record-breaking wind events of Inauguration Day 1993 or the Hanukkah Eve Wind Storm of 2006.

With a snow level around 2,000 feet, all the mountain passes will be affected. By midday Sunday, 10 to 16 inches of snow are likely in the Olympics and Cascades. Monday could bring a dump of 1 to 3 feet.

"We have better snow conditions than anywhere else in the country," Mass wrote. " Forget Utah and Colorado; save your money and enjoy local skiing."

Combined with high tides, the storm could cause some flooding along beaches Monday morning. In Puget Sound, where the tide will peak at 8 a.m., the storm could push water levels 1 to 2 feet higher than normal.

On the coast, swells of 20 feet or more are possible Monday.

Looking ahead, there's at least a chance of snow in some lowland areas by Tuesday. "There may be some areas that see a rain-snow mix, but it's a little too far out to be sure," Berg said. "I would say: Stay tuned for that."

Sandi Doughton: 206-464-2491 or sdoughton@seattletimes.com


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