Multnomah County leaders are warning that dangerously cold temperatures starting Wednesday evening will reach the lowest recorded in the Portland metro area in two decades. The National Weather Service reports a serious risk of people getting frostbite or succumbing to hypothermia.
“It’s not conditions that our bodies were made to be exposed to over a long period of time,” said hydrologist Andy Bryant. “People can die if they’re exposed too long to those really cold temperatures without shelter or proper clothing.”
Temperatures are expected to be below freezing Wednesday — and could drop to the low teens overnight into Thursday morning in the Portland and Southwest Washington areas. Strong winds coming through the Columbia River Gorge and Portland area on Thursday could cause wind chill as low as zero degrees. Temperatures could remain below freezing until Friday. Because the low-pressure system causing the cold is coming from the west, it will actually be warmer in the Cascade Mountains than in the Willamette Valley.
County officials are comparing the storm to the heat dome that killed 69 Oregonians in the summer of 2021
The cold poses the greatest threat to people who are older, people with disabilities, and anyone experiencing homelessness.
Multnomah County is asking the public to check on their neighbors and support people who are living outside. County leaders say anyone who sees a person not dressed for the weather should call the police non-emergency line to request a welfare check. If they see someone whose life appears to be in danger, county officials say, they should call 911.
Oregon’s largest county has declared a state of emergency in preparation and will open four warming shelters and provide free transportation to them. County leaders are encouraging people to seek shelter Wednesday night, before low temperatures are reached early Thursday morning.
Travel could also be impacted on Thursday. “We’re expecting a period of freezing rain probably starting sometime midday on Thursday,” Bryant said. “We may actually have a little bit of snow before it turns to freezing, and then there’s potential for that freezing rain to continue off and on for about 24 hours.”