Prepared to Plow: Region set for snow, but how much?

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

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Forget “if.”

Now the question is, “how much?”

Weather forecasters continue to predict low-elevation snow in the Portland-Vancouver metro area this weekend, as a mass of cold air is expected to collide with arriving moisture over the Northwest some time Saturday. That will bring the snow level down to 200 feet overnight into Sunday morning, with at least some accumulation likely, according to the National Weather Service in Portland. Another inch could fall on the lowest elevations Sunday, when the high temperature is only expected to reach 36 degrees in Vancouver.

This weekend’s system will come in the form of showers, which means accumulation could be hit-and-miss across the area. But it won’t be enough to pile up huge numbers, said Chris Collins, a meteorologist with the weather service.

“Nobody is going to get leveled from that type of system,” Collins said.

Higher elevations could see a few inches, Collins said, but nothing major. Still, the possibility of snow will hang around even through Monday and early Tuesday. High temperatures are expected to hover in the 30s in Vancouver both days.

That’s when things could get interesting.

Collins said forecasters are closely watching a second wave of moisture due to hit the Northwest during the middle of next week, but its outcome isn’t known just yet. The system might bring nothing more than warm rain, he said — or it could bring a much more significant snow event. Forecast models are “all over the place,” Collins said.

“It’s really too early to tell at this point,” he said.

For now, the weather service is calling it rain over Southwest Washington. Next week’s forecast predicts more rain, and high temperatures in the mid-40s.

Whatever happens at the lower elevations, the coming week is likely to be a big one for snow in the Cascade Mountains and foothills. State and local transportation crews spent the latter part of this week gearing up for what could be a busy several days.

Washington State Department of Transportation workers have already treated roads and highways during the cold weather that’s characterized much of the last month, said spokeswoman Heidi Sause. WSDOT’s winter fleet of trucks and plows has been mobilized since the fall, and is prepared for action this weekend, she said.

“It doesn’t look like a huge event, but they’ll be ready to help as needed,” Sause said.

At least one Vancouver tire store reported brisk business Friday as customers came in to buy chains and other gear. WSDOT also sent out a notice urging drivers to be prepared with winter supply kits and a full tank of gas before traveling — particularly if it’s a trip into the mountains.

The forecast comes in the midst of what’s been a relatively uneventful winter so far. Temperatures have been cold across Southwest Washington, but precipitation levels haven’t measured up to normal. Truly wintry weather has been hard to come by.

Expect that to change this weekend.

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541; http://twitter.com/col_enviro;eric.florip@columbian.com.