Nearly 200,000 Oregonians still without power after weekend storm

By OPB staff
Feb. 15, 2021 5:08 p.m. Updated: Feb. 17, 2021 12:44 a.m.

Oregon started Tuesday with nearly a quarter of a million homes and businesses lacking power, and electrical crews battled ongoing failures as downed trees took more customers offline as they repaired a strained grid. By 4:30 p.m., they’d gained ground, bringing the total of outages to roughly 195,000 across the state, with some customers having spent days in the dark and others surprised by fresh failures Tuesday.


Though the bulk of power outages were in the Willamette Valley, eastern parts of the state were also affected by the deluge of precipitation. Severe winter weather forced the closure of Interstate 84 westbound lanes along a nearly 90 mile stretch between Baker City and Pendleton Tuesday morning, but by 11 a.m. they had been reopened. Trucks were barred from using the interstate along an additional 70-mile stretch east of Baker City, according to the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Portland General Electric reported on its outages page that 184,594 customers were still without power as of 4:20 p.m. Tuesday. The utility said it had 900 workers out in the field and had restored power for more than hundreds of thousands of people. Crews from other Oregon utilities, along with out-of-state companies, have sent in help. Meanwhile, Pacific Power reported about 10,000 customers still in the dark as of 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.

“We’ve had more outages come on as we’ve repaired past outages. Our crews are really in an ongoing repair situation and it’s going to take some time to get everybody back on,” PGE spokesman Steve Corson said. “It’s still going to take a long time, so we could have people who are out for many days yet.”

Part of the challenge, Corson said, is that unlike other recent ice storms, this one had severe impact on the utility’s transmission system, the high-power lines that feed substations, that then power individual areas. More than 200 miles of transmission lines need repairs, Corson said, and PGE is prioritizing those fixes, even as it works on repairing downed lines elsewhere.

A safety note: It’s tempting to use any means available to heat your home when the power’s out, but that can be dangerous. The Seattle Times created a helpful, printable flyer in multiple languages on what NOT to do.

A number of Oregon school districts were closed to all activities and distance learning on Tuesday due to power outages. Among those are Portland public, Beaverton and Tigard-Tualatin school districts. Find the complete Portland-metro area list here.

Getting around is still a challenge in some areas. Portland’s TriMet reports that MAX trains will be running on all lines Tuesday, but some bus routes are still blocked by downed trees and power lines. TriMet said more buses would be added throughout the day.

Meanwhile, the National Weather Service has announced an avalanche warning for the Mount Hood area until 6 p.m. Tuesday.

Staying warm poses its own dangers

As people without power try to stay warm, the Oregon Department of Emergency Management is concerned that some are turning to dangerous sources.


“Loss of power and freezing temperatures have some Oregonians using alternate heating sources, many of which come with the added risk of carbon monoxide poisoning,” the agency cautioned in a press release Monday.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless but poisonous gas that can cause headaches, nausea and even loss of consciousness and death. It’s commonly emitted by furnaces, stoves, ovens and fireplaces that rely on gas, oil or wood and can be dangerously unhealthy when not properly vented.

The Oregon Department of Emergency Management says people should not use gas ovens or ranges for home heating nor should they use charcoal grills or camping stoves inside. Officials also recommend making sure exhaust vents are clear of snow so they’re working properly, and using vented space heaters when possible.

Coping with the power outages

We asked people via Twitter how they were handling the lack of electricity. Here are some of their responses:

Storm resources

Stay warm: maintains an updated list of warming shelters across Oregon, including hours of operation and eligibility.

Replacement benefits: People who receive SNAP food benefits and lost purchased food due to power outages can apply to have their benefits restored by the Oregon Department of Human Services. People must request replacement benefits within 10 days of food loss.

Know before you go: The Oregon Department of Transportation’s map features road camera, road closure information and traffic conditions on state-operated roads (think: highways) across the state. The Washington State Department of Transportation offers a similar map with travel alerts across the state.

Prepare before you travel: ODOT also provides a helpful list of tips to keep in mind before setting out for winter travel.

Check your list: The Washington State Department of Transportation has some helpful checklists for winter driving, including what to carry in your car.

Watch the plows: For Portland residents, the Portland Bureau of Transportation has a live map that shows where the city’s snowplows are in real-time.