Snow causes crashes, school closures in Clark County

By Eric Florip , Emily Gillespie and Erik Hidle

Published:

Updated: December 6, 2013, 10:15 PM

 

Surprise snow

Clark County woke up to a blanket of fresh snow on Friday.

A morning shot of snowfall snarled traffic, caused dozens of crashes and closed some schools around Clark County on Friday.

With an Arctic air mass already parked over the region, the wintry conditions made things particularly dicey for commuters on the county's major roadways.

How slick was it? At one point, Washington State Patrol responded to 25 vehicles sliding off the roadway — on a single freeway ramp.

"It was just extremely icy through there this morning," WSP Trooper Will Finn said Friday. "That was an extremely bad situation for motorists."

That trouble spot was the off-ramp connecting northbound Interstate 205 to Northeast 134th Street in Salmon Creek, which closed for two hours while crews cleared the area and helped stranded drivers get on their way. But it wasn't the only spot, as about the same number of vehicles slid on another ramp on the other side of the freeway, Finn said.

The snow started after 5 a.m., with amounts ranging from a dusting to an inch or more in the north part of the county. Among the numbers reported were an inch in east Vancouver and Ridgefield, and one-half inch in Camas, according to the National Weather Service in Portland.

Spin-outs, rollovers and other collisions were reported around the county. Between 4 a.m. and noon, WSP responded to 84 collisions in Clark County alone, Finn said. The high volume of incidents prompted the agency to bring in more resources and dispatch sergeants and lieutenants with the regular patrol force, he said.

Clark County crews spent the morning working to de-ice and sand roadways, mostly in the west part of the county, said Public Works spokesman Jeff Mize. He, like others, urged motorists to slow down and allow for extra time in hazardous conditions.

"The traffic is gnarly out there. There's no other way to put it," Mize said Friday morning.

The backups affected long stretches of Interstate 5, I-205, state Highway 14 and other roadways. Vancouver resident Justin Nickelsen was among those stuck for hours on I-205 while crews cleared the ramp at 134th Street.

Some cars died idling on the freeway, Nickelsen said. Some passengers simply got out and walked. Nickelsen took to Twitter, posting updates on the situation throughout the morning.

"I figured I'd have fun and do something productive rather than pull my hair out," he said.

Traffic began to ease after 11 a.m., said Magan Reed, a Washington State Department of Transportation spokeswoman.

Frigid conditions

The threat of new snow had passed in Southwest Washington by Friday afternoon. But clearing skies will bring bitter cold and dangerously low wind chills this weekend, according to the weather service.

Low temperatures were predicted to plummet into the single digits Friday night into Saturday, according to the weather service. With an expected strong east wind blowing, wind chill values could register as low as 13 below zero, forecasters said. Temperatures will remain in the 20s and teens until early next week, according to the weather service.

In other words, don't expect a big melt any time soon.

"That snow isn't going to go anywhere all weekend," said Tyree Wilde, warning coordination meteorologist with the weather service.

In response to the frigid forecast, Vancouver's Living Hope Church announced that it would open its doors as a temporary shelter space for four nights starting Friday. The space at 2711 N.E. Andresen Road will be open from 9 p.m. to 8 a.m. each night.

Living Hope is offering space for 25 people on a first-come, first-served basis. Donations of blankets and sleeping bags are also welcome. More information about emergency shelters in the county is available through the Council for the Homeless at 360-695-9677.

The wintry weather also canceled an event commemorating the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attacks. But Walk & Knock, Clark County's largest annual food drive, will continue as planned this weekend, said President Roxie Olson.

Temperatures are expected to climb back above freezing and into more normal territory next week -- but not before another possible dose of wintry precipitation arrives Monday and Tuesday, according to the weather service.

Wilde reminds folks the golden rule is to stay indoors and off the roads when winter conditions persist.

"If you don't have to travel, then stay put," Wilde said.

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