At least one person in Multnomah County died from hypothermia, the county medical examiner’s office announced on Tuesday, as winter weather and storms that began on Christmas Day continued to blanket the state and much of the Pacific Northwest in snow and ice.
Few details have been released on the deceased individual or where they were found. The medical examiner’s office confirmed the person was housed and found outside on Christmas Day.
“This is a sober reminder that cold weather is dangerous for anyone outside who does not have the right gear to stay dry and warm,” County Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines said in a statement. “If you see a person outside and have any concern they might be at risk in this cold weather, please check on them or call for help.”
The county said on Tuesday there were no pending investigations into other deaths related to the cold temperatures. The State Medical Examiner’s Office was not aware of any other hypothermia-related deaths, according to a spokeswoman for the Oregon State Police.
Five shelters opened on Christmas Day and hosted 162 people. Since then, more people have turned to emergency shelters. Monday night, six shelters hosted 339 people.
County spokesperson Julie Sullivan-Springhetti said the shelters are at about 70% capacity.
“We have the shelter space, but to open more, we need more staff,” Sullivan-Springhetti said in a statement. “Opening 24 hour shelters on Christmas when people are on vacation, have visitors, or are worried about COVID-19, has been incredibly challenging. Hundreds of people have stepped up. But, we need more.”
The National Weather Service in Portland reported 1 to 3 inches of fresh snow fell across the Willamette Valley overnight. As the day wore on the quiet snow-covered streets in Portland turned to grey slush.
“Temperatures are lucky to get above freezing today, with temps dropping well below freezing overnight,” said Gerald Macke, a meteorological technician for the National Weather Service in Portland.
Two more weather systems are expected by Thursday morning, he said, with temperatures expected to remain cold with winds picking up along the Columbia River Gorge, with gusts up to 30 miles per hour
“So windy along the Gorge and that brings cold air from eastern Oregon, keeps it cold in the Portland area through Wednesday,” Macke said.
The region could see another 2 to 5 inches of snow on Thursday morning, but with warmer temperatures expected, that snow is expected to transition to rain later in the day, he said.
Macke said Portland typically gets at least one snowstorm every winter.
“This may be the one we get this year,” he said. “Hopefully that’s all we’ll have and we’ll go back to rain here in the near future.”