Portland, Oregon, doesn’t usually get snow, so when it does, things get weird. Fast.
Such was the case Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2016, when the city was hit with 1-to-3 inches of snow right as tens of thousands of commuters were trying to get home. The result? Gridlock.
Drivers reported sitting stationary on Interstate 5 for hours. Other busy roads around the metro area were also at a standstill, with some cars spinning, sliding or driving off the road into ditches, culverts and berms.
“It’s absolutely crazy out there,” Russell Hickey with Portland towing company Speeds Towing said Thursday morning. “We’ve got a sheet of ice under the snow.”
That ice resulted in dangerous road conditions during rush hour. Then, overnight, temperatures dipped below freezing and any standing water froze, according to Treena Jensen with the National Weather Service in Portland.
Now the city, the Oregon Department of Transportation, AAA Oregon and private tow companies are working around the clock to clear the streets, make sure drivers made it home safe and get the city moving again.
AAA Oregon received a massive increase in service calls Wednesday evening, according to Marie Dodds. All the experts agree: If you don’t absolutely have to be on the roads Thursday, stay home.
But that advice doesn’t work for everyone. Some of us still have to make it into work, especially on bad weather days. For those who must venture onto the roads Thursday or this weekend, Dodds and AAA Oregon offered some advice.
According to Dodds, the three main issues AAA responds to during bad weather are dead batteries, lock outs and stranded vehicles.
“A lot of car batteries only have a lifespan of about 3-to-5 years. That battery may turn over just fine if it’s 45 degrees and raining, but if it’s a situation where it’s 30 degrees and snowing, and you may have parked your car at work for several hours during the day, tried to start it and it’s dead,” said Dodds.
“You can open the hood and look at the battery,” Dodds said. “If you see corrosion there, that may be a sign that your battery is getting old.”
You’ll want to make sure that you have traction tires or snow chains before venturing out — in fact, it’s actually the law in Oregon. And Dodds says to go ahead and put them on if you venture out Thursday. “It’s better to be safe than sorry.”
You also should make sure you have an emergency kit with a blanket, shovel and kitty litter, that will help you in the event of slick road conditions, frigid temperatures and the possibility of being stranded.
Wednesday’s commute is a prime example, she says.
“Don’t think, ‘Hey, I’m only driving on a trip across town that should take me 20 minutes,’ because it may take you hours.”
And as for the driving itself? Take things slow.
Slow down everything you do while driving. Drive slower, brake slower, turn slower. Don’t slam on the gas or brakes. Both can cause your car to slide, spin or lose control.
Leave plenty of space between your vehicle and any vehicles traveling on the road in front of you.
“This is not the time for quick starts and sudden stops. Just really take it easy, and again, if you can stay home, do. The thing is, why put yourself, your passengers or your vehicle at risk,” said Dodds.