By Elaine Porterfield
SEATTLE (Reuters) - Seattle residents on Tuesday braced for an epic storm, expected to drop up to 10 inches of snow and nicknamed "Snowmageddon" for the havoc it was expected to wreak on the region.
The prediction prompted residents of the city, who rarely see such heavy snowfall, to stock up on essential supplies in case of power outages and road closures.
"People are coming in for the basics -- bread, milk, canned goods, shovels and (tire) chains," said Melinda Merrill, spokeswoman for the Fred Meyer and QFC supermarket chains, both owned by the Kroger Co. "People are kind of getting ready to hunker down for a bit."
Forecasters said the storm will likely first hit Seattle around midnight, and they expect it will be a substantial amount of snow for usually temperate Seattle.
"The number is five to 10 inches in Seattle, with 12 to 18 inches near the Olympic Mountains," said National Weather Service meteorologist Brad Colman. "As you head further west from Seattle, you'll get a little more snow.'
Although earlier predictions had rain moving in by Wednesday evening to melt the snow, forecasters now believe temperatures will stay cold through Thursday with a second, weaker storm dropping another inch of snow.
Seattle usually averages just six to seven inches of snow each year, Colman said.
"It's usually a few inches here and a few inches there. If we were to get up to 10 inches, that would put it in the top 10 snowfalls ever here," he said.
The record for Seattle is 21.5 inches in 24 hours, set in 1916, he said.
Residents and broadcasters have taken to calling the approaching storm "Snowmageddon."
The Seattle School District cancelled classes for Wednesday, as did many adjoining districts and private schools.
One major road hard hit by early heavy snow on Tuesday was Interstate 90 through Snoqualmie Pass, the main arterial connecting western and eastern Washington and an important trucking route.
The road was closed for avalanche control from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., from North Bend, 34 miles east of Seattle, to Ellensburg, 107 miles east of Seattle. That caused massive traffic jams in both directions, said Mike Westbay, spokesman for the Washington state Department of Transportation.
"We have our day- and our night-shift crews who usually work 10 hour shifts now doing 12 hour shifts, so we're working around the clock on roads, plowing snow and putting down de-icer," he said.
They expect to continue their avalanche control efforts throughout Wednesday as even more snow falls, Westbay said.
"People should probably postpone trips across the pass until later," he said.
Meanwhile, further south the National Weather Service issued a hurricane force wind warning for the waters along about 100 miles of the central Oregon Coast overnight into Wednesday afternoon, said meteorologist Tiffani Brown.
Brown said the storm could yield wind gusts up to 100 miles per hour offshore, and generate a high and dangerous surf zone.
In the Portland metro area, Wednesday morning's commute was expected to be snarled by one or more inches of snow falling overnight and Wednesday morning, especially in the hills around the city, Brown said.
(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Alex Dobuzinskis)