Around 11,000 Oregon homes and businesses were without power across the state at noon Friday after an ice storm blanketed the region overnight, snarling the start of the holiday travel season and imperiling the lives of people in the region who lack access to warm shelter.
With temperatures already well below freezing in many parts of Oregon and Washington, wind gusts added to the chill. According to the National Weather Service, the Columbia River Gorge was hit particularly hard, with gusts ranging from about 40 mph up to 80 mph, creating a wind chill of negative 10 degrees.
Prompted by concerns for the safety of unhoused people and those facing power outages, government agencies, churches and nonprofits across Oregon began opening temporary shelters earlier in the week.
In Multnomah County, where local governments opened five warming shelters, 800 people sought shelter Thursday night, and officials with the county said they expected even more people to seek shelter Friday. In Corvallis, a temporary overnight overflow warming center was set up at First Christian Church for people who couldn’t access other shelters.
Officials are urging anyone who needs a warm place to stay to call 211 to find the nearest shelter space available.
145am observation from a wx station near Corbett High School:— NWS Portland (@NWSPortland) December 23, 2022
🌡 Temperature 14°F.
💨 East wind 44 mph with gusts to 82 mph.
🥶 Wind chill: -10°F.
It's a good thing school is out for the holidays. #ArcticFront
Treacherous roads, flights canceled, hospitals understaffed
Holiday travelers faced precarious conditions Friday.
With hospitals in the Portland metro area, and across much of Oregon, already facing a staffing crisis due to a surge of patients with COVID-19, RSV and the flu, Multnomah County officials urged people to limit travel in order to stay safe and avoid further burdening a taxed health care system.
People who do opt to go outside should dress for life-threatening weather, the county said in a news release.
Among road closures across the region, Interstate 84 between Troutdale and Hood River, which closed in both directions on Thursday night, will remain closed all Friday, which was announced at 2 p.m.
Severe weather also closed the Astoria Megler Bridge between Astoria and Long Beach, Washington, for seven hours on Friday, from roughly 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. before reopening briefly. The bridge closed again less than an hour later.
“It may be several hours before freezing wind from the east eases off and allows the bridge to thaw enough for safe travel,” a statement from ODOT said.
I-84 will stay closed in both directions Friday between Troutdale and Hood River (exits 17 to 64). Freezing rain, ice, snow, wind; the gang's all here, and making it unsafe to travel. See https://t.co/UxoA7KITOL for the latest updates. pic.twitter.com/AyOYWWWfeQ— OregonDOT (@OregonDOT) December 23, 2022
Officials at the Washington Department of Transportation Southwest said the agency’s crews were working around the clock, “but with freezing temps & more precipitation in the forecast, it is advisable to stay home until conditions improve.”
The agency issued an alert Thursday night as freezing rain led to several accidents on Interstate 5, Interstate 205 and state Highway 14 through the Gorge.
Nearly all flights in and out of the Portland International Airport were canceled through 5 p.m. Friday. And Amtrak canceled its east-west Empire Builder departures from Seattle, Portland and Chicago through Sunday.
In the greater Portland metro area, TriMet and C-Tran continued to operate buses, but halted MAX train operations. TriMet buses were limited to maximum speeds of 25 mph as they deployed traction chains, and the transit agency said no riders would be turned away for not having a fare if they were heading to a warm place or simply needed to ride transit to stay warm.
Warmer weather coming soon
Forecasts show temperatures across much of the region, excluding the Columbia River Gorge, are expected to warm to above-freezing late Friday afternoon and overnight.
In the Portland area, the National Weather Service expects Friday’s forecast daytime high to be 29 degrees, with temperatures gradually climbing overnight and reaching 37 degrees by 5 a.m. Saturday. Warm air will move in from southern and eastern regions, and significant cloud cover and moisture will retain that heat, according to a National Weather Service meteorologist.
The southern and western parts of the Portland metro area will see the ice and snow thawing out by Friday night. Areas along the Columbia River heading toward the Gorge will hang onto cold temperatures a little longer, possibly into Saturday morning.
Temperatures will be significantly warmer for much of the Willamette Valley on Sunday. Forecasters expect highs in the mid-50s Sunday in the Portland area, and up to 60 in Eugene, along with scattered rain that morning.