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Seattle Parks Stay Open During Severe Weather with Tragic Consequences

Seattle Fire and emergency crews work to remove a large tree that fell on a car, killing one man in Seward Park in Seattle Sunday March 13, 2016. There was a toddler girl in the backseat that a passerby was able to get out of the car; she was taken to Harborview Medical Center with minor injuries.

During the severe Western Washington windstorm earlier this month, many area parks were closed to the public. Parks of Olympic National Park were closed, as was Point Defiance Park in Tacoma, to name just a few examples.

Seattle city parks, however, remained open as high-velocity winds whipped through trees. Tragically, Eric Medalle, a 42-year-old father of two was killed when a Douglas fir crushed the front end of his car in Sweard Park. His toddler daughter survived with only minor injuries and was safely evacuated from the vehicle. 

At least 37 trees blew down in Seattle parks, which aren’t typically shut down for inclement weather, even when prior warning is clearly given. 

At least two days before the windstorm, the National Weather Service in Seattle issued a “high-wind watch” for all of Western Washington. This watch was upgraded to a “high-wind warning” when meteorologists determined the actual severity of the storm. National Weather Service meteorologist Logan Johnson said “the hope and intent for doing that is so not only the public, but those who serve the public, can make decisions and take actions that will save lives and property.” 

Initial investigations reveal the tree that killed Medalle fell “because of strong winds and saturated soils” due to recent rainfall. Prior to the storm, the Seattle Parks Department worked on hazardous trees and safety in Seward Park in February. 

Parks Department spokesman David Takami stated that while parks have remained open during severe weather conditions in the past, the department “might consider” closing parks with potentially susceptible trees in the future.

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