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:
We lost power on Friday early evening. Trees down all over. We have fireplace and wood but still very chilly inside. Freezer full of newly-purchased meat can’t be saved. Power lines down throughout the neighborhood so we know it could be another week before we get power.— Steve Ritchie (@ritchieontrack) February 16, 2021
Been without in Oregon City since Friday. My apt is about 10 degrees colder than it is outside right now. We are strictly on electric, no gas, so no shower. No fireplace. Food in my chest freezer is still good but we’re almost out of charcoal and propane and stores are sold out!— Deborah (@Debbieotenburg) February 16, 2021
97267. Out since early Saturday, gas FP heats the immediate area and we're cooking on BBQ, incl boiling water for coffee and guessing to wash bodies soon since water heater has been depleted. Thankful for above freezing temps.— Woody (@woody_adams) February 16, 2021
No power since Friday over here but we are relatively lucky. We have gas appliances and a gas fireplace. Our water (private well) went out but we have some in reserve. Sadly, deep freezers filled with food and much of it will go to waste.— Jen M. (@JenHillMag) February 16, 2021
Entire neighborhood has been without power since Friday, I have two deep freezers full of food that are toast at this point $$$ lost, but we’re warm from our wood stove. @portlandgeneral has a brutal task to handle so I’m grateful they’re out there trying!! pic.twitter.com/rPagsmnRZm— Josephine (@msjosephinem) February 16, 2021
You will get more of these.— NitePagan☮️☯️♑️ #BLM (@NitePagan) February 16, 2021
To be prepared, you need the following:
Propane heater that can be used inside like Mr. Heater
CO detector and Oxygen sensor for your safety
Small solar battery, 300w minimum and solar panel, keep the battery fully charged
A way to cook food
Without power since early Saturday 3am. Lost the fridge and freezer food in stages (put some outside in tubs while still freezing), now all of that is lost. Lost half the limbs on a 50+ year old Doug fir. Real mess. I don’t blame PGE, but I want more status info.— Chris Higgins (@chrishiggins) February 16, 2021
In west Linn without power since Friday evening, temps inside were hovering around 40 the whole time. Finally got out for a walk & saw so much damage like the house in photo. Was able to drive to friends last night for warm shower/place to sleep. PGE should have done more prep. pic.twitter.com/HrdD7Czl00— Chrissy Chambers 🌿⚖️💪🏼 (@ChrissyChambers) February 16, 2021
We have not had any power since Saturday morning. We are staying warm with our fireplaces constantly running and our water heater still works. Food has been OK. Our chest freezer is still pretty frozen. PGE has their hands full so I don’t really blame them for the slow response.— Jonathan Stanis (@jonstanis) February 16, 2021
My husband and I live in SW Portland, we lost power Sunday night, we didn’t have phone service until about 2pm yesterday. We go out to our car to warm up and charge our phones throughout the day because our apartment is so cold. We are missing work because we work from home. pic.twitter.com/JrjydeDAyA— KarinnaAF (@karinna_af) February 16, 2021
Stay warm: 211info.org 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 Tripcheck.com 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.