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Cold Temperatures Settle In As Oregon Tries To Clear Out From Record Snowfall

A winter storm blindsided Oregon with heavy snow on Tuesday. The overnight snowfall left some of the state’s most populous cities at a frozen standstill. 

There’s good news for Oregon after a historic round of snowfall led to Gov. Kate Brown declaring a state of emergency Wednesday: The state should be mostly free from snow for the rest of the week.

But temperatures east of the Cascades and in the Columbia River Gorge will remain dangerously low through the end of the week, with some possible flooding due to melting snow.

Central Oregon has been hit especially hard by the recent patch of harsh winter weather, with reports of roads covered by as much as 8 feet of snow in Crook County. Oregon officials denied a request from crook County for financial assistance to deal with the heavy snowfall there. But the snow, for now at least, appears over in this part of the state.

“People might see some flurries through the fog, but nothing accumulating,” said Marilyn Lohmann, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pendleton.

Temperatures for the Bend, Prineville, Redmond and La Pine areas however could pose problems as they’re expected to reach only the high teens and low 20s over the coming days, with evening lows in the single digits.

“This is unseasonably cold even for the cold parts of Oregon,” Lohmann said.

The snow piled up on roofs and in streets caused problems. In Bend, a large portion of the roof at the KorePine building collapsed due to snow accumulation Wednesday. Police report no one was injured in the collapse.

The FedEx building in Bend also had to be evacuated because of structural concerns due to the snow accumulation.

The collapsed roof of the gym at the Highland Magnet at Kenwood School in the Bend-La Pine School District, Jan. 12, 2017

The collapsed roof of the gym at the Highland Magnet at Kenwood School in the Bend-La Pine School District, Jan. 12, 2017

Courtesy of the Bend Fire Department

Bend-LaPine schools closed Thursday as school officials examine buildings across the district following the collapse of the gym roof at the Highland Magnet at Kenwood School.
“We are really lucky because kids usually go in there, you know, 9ish or so they have students go into the gym. They have music classes downstairs,” David Howe, a battalion chief with the Bend Fire Department, said of the collapse. “Nobody was in there at all, and we’re really fortunate that happened.”
Howe said the building will have to be completely demolished because the collapse has damaged several exterior walls.

Then there’s the threat of flooding from snowmelt. Lohmann said snowpack will have blocked storm drains in many residential areas, and even just the thawing from people driving on mostly cleared roads could lead to minor flooding as that melt tries to reach lower ground.

That threat of flooding will increase Monday when a new winter storm is expected to arrive in the Cascades and begin slowly moving east across the state. This front is expected to bring warmer temperatures and lots of rain but, as Lohmann noted, low temperatures in central and eastern Oregon could lead to freezing rain.

Conditions in the Blue Mountains may get even colder.

In the Willamette Valley, more than 5,300 Portland General Electric customers were still without power Thursday morning, according to the utility’s website. The largest number of customers were in Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas Counties. But residents in Columbia, Marion and Yamhill were also affected.

Only a few dozen customers were without power in Clark County Thursday morning, down from about 15,000 just after Tuesday night’s storm that dumped a foot or more of snow in parts of southwest Washington.

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Clark County Public Works recommended Thursday morning that residents avoid travel if possible. Garbage and recycling was canceled Thursday. The agency said crews are still to plowing roads as well as spreading salt and gravel on hills.

For now the main highway running through the Gorge and out to eastern Oregon, Interstate 84, remains open with chain requirements for trucks. That’s according to the Oregon Department of Transportation. Highway 26 from Portland to Bend also remains open.

West of the Cascades things are looking much better, with additional snowfall unlikely.

“We’re going to very slowly warm up to near freezing (Thursday),” said Colby Neuman with the National Weather Service in Portland. The forecast calls mostly cloudy skies for the Willamette Valley and Columbia River Gorge, but Neuman noted that areas that receive even modest bits of sunshine could start to see some melt Thursday afternoon.

Temperatures for the Portland metro area — where some neighborhoods received as much as 15 inches of snow between Tuesday evening and Wednesday — and surrounding counties are expected to dip back down into the teens tonight, and Neuman said that will continue to make roads slick and dangerous for commuters. Temperatures dropped into the high teens and low 20s Wednesday night, which means the potential for a slick layer of black ice on roads and sidewalks.

The thawing and refreezing will also make clearing secondary roads more difficult, Neuman said, as it will cause the snowpack to turn into a hard-packed block of ice.

Portland will get some help from Seattle in clearing its roads. The Seattle Department of Transportation is sending 11 trucks and 15 crew members to aid in the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s efforts to get the city back up and running. The additional resources arrive after Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler declared a state of emergency Wednesday for the city which will last through at least Sunday. Four homeless people have died of hypothermia in Portland this year.

A spokeswoman for the Portland International Airport said operations were back to normal, with only two flight cancellations as of Thursday morning.

During Tuesday night’s winter storm, the airport shutdown its runways for about two hours during some of the heaviest snow. About 1000 people were stranded at the airport overnight Tuesday.

Oregon Department of Transportation spokesman Don Hamilton said the agency is pooling resources from the southern Willamette Valley and coastal regions of the state to help clear up highways in the Portland area. 

“We want to keep (the roads) operating, but we’re not going to be able to get clear down to the pavement,” Hamilton said. “We’re still a long ways from driving the speed limit.”

ODOT said its primary tools in clearing Portland area roads are plows and sand, not salt. And Hamilton cautioned that drivers should still  take extra precautions, such as slowing down and checking travel conditions on TripCheck and municipal transportation sites before venturing out due to the threats of black ice and compacted snow on roadways.

“It’s cold. Roads are slick, it’s icy and it’s dangerous out there,” he said.

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