Snow, rain cause havoc in Clark County

At one point on Wednesday, 5,400 utility customers were without power; wet weather expected to linger

By Eric Florip and Paul Suarez


Updated: January 18, 2012, 10:01 PM


Weather update as of 9 p.m. Wednesday

Outages: About 9 p.m. Wednesday, Clark Public Utilities crews were working on more than 60 outages, spreading across the county from Camas to north of Amboy.

As many as 21 line crews, some hired from outside the utility, were working through the night, dealing with tree branches on power lines. Some crews of three to five linemen were having to rest before getting back to work. The utility’s Outages Map — http://www.clarkp... — showed 1,064 customers affected. It automatically updates every five minutes

Rain: About 1.3 inches was recorded at Vancouver’s Pearson Field during the 24-hour period ending at 9 p.m. Wednesday.

Wind: Top gust was 22 mph by 9 p.m. Wednesday.

Temperatures: About 53 degrees at 9 p.m. The Wednesday night forecast was low 40s in lower areas of the county; and high 30s at higher elevations including north county.

Flooding watch: A watch was issued for the next few days and those who live near waterways were asked to be on the lookout for flooding and erosion.

Sources: National Weather Service, Clark Public Utilities, Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency


Vancouver: 3 inches.

La Center: 20 inches.

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Lingering snow made for a sloppy morning commute in parts of Clark County on Wednesday, but the wet, heavy flakes also ended up causing a more lasting problem: power outages.

The number of people without power ebbed and flowed throughout the morning. Crews tended to reported outages as trees bent and broke under the weight of snow, snagged cables and caused new outages. At one point, 5,400 customers were without power, according to Clark Public Utilities.

As for the next several days, the Clark County forecast calls for rain with no end in sight. The National Weather Service on Wednesday issued a flood watch on fears that steady rainfall and snowmelt will swell some rivers and streams. The watch remains in effect until Friday, according to the weather service.

Many of Wednesday’s outages were reported in east and north parts of Clark County, said Erica Erland, utility spokeswoman. Around 2,500 people in Yacolt and Amboy

were without power in the early morning, and another 2,300 were without power in Camas and Washougal.

In La Center, Robert Gaynor of Portland said he had to call 911 after a few hours without power. Gaynor’s mother, Joan Mitchell, 76, needs supplemental oxygen and was in a bind without power and well over a foot of snow outside her La Center home.

“It was truly a community effort” to get the woman out, said Janina Kerr-Bryant, paramedic with North Country Emergency Medical Services. Kerr-Bryant and colleagues Chris Hamper and Brian Amren worked with four firefighters and neighbors to clear the driveway and get Mitchell into a neighbor’s truck so she could be taken to a friend’s place with electricity.

Kerr-Bryant said there were a lot of trees and branches down in the Fargher Lake area north of Battle Ground. Road conditions early Wednesday were “awful” — main roads were plowed, but snow still covered back roads, she said.

Clark County Fire & Rescue staffed its Ridgefield and Charter Oaks stations, which are normally volunteer stations, until noon Wednesday. The extra engines helped mitigate slower response times because of the weather, said Battalion Chief Tim Dawdy.

Crews with East County Fire & Rescue responded to eight calls in the 24-hour shift that started at 7 a.m. Tuesday. Four of those were related to downed power lines, two were auto accidents, one was a medical call and another was a fire-related call. Usually crews respond to two or three, calls during a shift, Chief Scott Koehler said.

Snow gone quickly

Observation records at Vancouver’s Pearson Field show Tuesday night’s rainfall switched to snow before 9 p.m. amid near-freezing temperatures. Flakes fell for about six hours before giving way to rain again by 3 a.m., according to records. But by then, the entire Vancouver metro area had at least an inch or two on the ground.

The official total pegged Vancouver at 3 inches of snow early Wednesday morning. La Center recorded one of the highest totals in the county, piling up some 20 total inches Tuesday and early Wednesday, according to the weather service.

Much of it didn’t hang around long. Temperatures warmed rapidly, reaching 53 degrees in Vancouver by 4 p.m. Wednesday. And moisture didn’t let up, with more than an inch of rain during the day.

Despite the snow-rain switch in Vancouver, Washington State Department of Transportation crews were still dealing with snowy conditions along Interstate 5 north of Clark County early Wednesday afternoon, said agency spokeswoman Heidi Sause. But few spinouts were reported even with those conditions, she said.

WSDOT officials also kept their eye on another potential danger— landslides caused by steady rainfall and rapidly melting snow. That’s more of a risk for highways heading toward the coast, but no such slides had been reported as of Wednesday afternoon, Sause said.

By 3:30 p.m., Clark Public Utilities knocked the number of people without power down below 1,500.

The utility was hesitant to give an estimated time for power restoration due to strong winds expected in the area into Wednesday evening. The National Weather Service posted a wind advisory that included much of Clark County, predicting gusts in places as strong as 45 mph.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen with the weather so we don’t want to make promises,” Erland said.

Clark Public Utilities recommends residents have a home emergency kit ready to go in the case of a power outage. Kits should include nonperishable food, water and supplies needed to support a family for three days. Other recommended supplies are a flashlight, a battery-operated radio, a manual can opener, batteries and a first-aid kit.