Winter storm brings ice, snow, dangerous wind chill to Oregon

By Joni Auden Land (OPB)
Jan. 13, 2024 5:06 p.m. Updated: Jan. 13, 2024 10:16 p.m.

Frigid temperatures, snow and freezing rain are battering nearly every part of Oregon on Saturday, with one possible cold-related death reported and tens of thousands without power.


Especially threatening are dangerously icy wind gusts, which could bring the wind chill temperatures in Portland to as low as -10 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the National Weather Service. The gusts could reach speeds of up to 45 miles per hour through Saturday night.

The Multnomah County Medical Examiner’s office said on Saturday it is investigating one suspected hypothermia death since a cold-weather state of emergency was declared Friday. The person died Saturday in Portland. No other details were released. The county said confirmation on the cause of death will take weeks or even months.

The Portland Bureau of Emergency Communications received 14 cold-related calls from Friday night to Saturday afternoon, Multnomah County Health spokesperson Sarah Dean said. It’s unclear, though, how many incidents of frostbite or hypothermia have been reported.

Multnomah County Public Health Officer Dr. Richard Bruno spoke to reporters from a crowded warming shelter in Northwest Portland and said there was a serious risk of injury and death from exposure to the elements.

“People in the area without access to a warm environment are at risk of hypothermia and frostbite, which can be very dangerous and even deadly,” Bruno said. “We want to try and prevent all future mortalities and death from this cold.”

A wintry mix — a combination of freezing rain, sleet and snow — hit the Portland metro area Saturday, creating difficult conditions for crews working to keep roads clear. Numerous downed trees have been reported over roadways in Portland, felled by a combination of wind and accumulated snow and ice.

The National Weather Service said earlier Saturday morning that Portland and Bend could receive up to 8 inches of snow in total, but that total was closer to 4-5 inches around 1:30 p.m. Saturday.

Many people in Western Oregon had lost power by Saturday afternoon due to high winds, ice, and downed trees, with tens of thousands of customers reporting outages in Clackamas, Multnomah, Washington, Tillamook and Lincoln counties.

Oregon Department of Transportation spokesperson Kacey Davey said crews are facing dangerous conditions as they attempt to keep roads clear. At such low temperatures, fog can freeze on the inside of windshields and diesel engines struggle to start.

And the freezing, wet conditions will only make efforts to keep roads open more challenging.

“Even when you put down salt on top of ice in these colder temperatures, the salt will start to melt the ice, but then it refreezes again and turns into this very bumpy type of road condition,” Davey said.

In the Portland area, TriMet on Saturday reported significant service disruptions and cancellations due to weather conditions, including a downed tree blocking tracks near Beaverton Transit Center. By Saturday afternoon, the transit agency had canceled all light rail service and told passengers to expect significant delays. Check for the most-up-to-date information and leave extra time.


Early Saturday morning, the southern portion of the Willamette Valley from Salem to Eugene faced some of the iciest conditions.

Part of Oregon Highway 224 near Estacada, southeast of Oregon City, has been closed due to some down trees and power lines.

Multiple drivers were stranded on Interstate 5 between Albany and Eugene early in the morning, temporarily shutting down the freeway. At least eight commercial trucks lost control on the ice and crashed into cable barriers, all of which were traveling at speeds greater than 50 miles per hour.

Meanwhile, blizzard conditions are expected in the Columbia Gorge, with temperatures plummeting to below 0 degrees and up to several inches of snow and high winds anticipated.

And, even with more than a foot of snow anticipated on Mount Hood, Davey said they expect large numbers of people traveling through the area to ski and recreate. The temperature on the mountain was -2 degrees Fahrenheit as of 8:30 a.m, according to ODOT.

“Wind chills will be far below zero and it’s going to be quite uncomfortable,” Davey said, adding that those driving should remember to drive slowly.

Hundreds of emergency beds have been made available across the Portland metro area, in anticipation of this weekend’s freezing temperatures. TriMet is also offering free transportation to anyone seeking warm shelter.

Mike rides a TriMet bus in Northwest Portland on Jan. 13, 2024, with temperatures outside hovering in the teens. Mike said he found it difficult to stay warm and that the levels of snow surprised him.

Mike rides a TriMet bus in Northwest Portland on Jan. 13, 2024, with temperatures outside hovering in the teens. Mike said he found it difficult to stay warm and that the levels of snow surprised him.

Joni Land / OPB

Ten warming shelters have been opened across Multnomah County with room for 740 people. While some have reported reaching capacity, no one seeking shelter will be turned away, Bruno said.

A man experiencing homelessness named Mike was riding a TriMet bus in Northwest Portland on Saturday, seeking refuge from the cold. He had been outside most of the day, with frost forming on his beard.

“I haven’t really been (staying warm),” he said. “If I have anything near me, like an extra jacket, I might just hold it tight.”

Bruno said crews have been driving around Multnomah County looking for people sleeping outside and offering them transportation to a shelter. A full list of warming shelters can be found at the county’s website.