On top of snow: ice

Downed tree limbs, substantial power outages could be next

By Mark Bowder and Stephanie Rice

Published:

 

February's winter blast is going out with a treacherous twist, topping off days worth of snow with a layer of ice.

Steady snowfall throughout the day Saturday turned to sleet and then to freezing rain at about 5 p.m., prompting warnings about hazardous roads and possible power outages throughout the region.

An ice storm warning from the National Weather Service extends through 10 p.m. tonight.

Forecasters expect a brief break in the weather this morning, before another round of freezing rain this afternoon and evening.

Ice accumulations of a quarter to a half inch are forecast.

Snow-covered roads will likely become coated with ice, including Interstate 5 and Interstate 205, forecasters said. The Washington Department of Transportation released a statement asking drivers to avoid traveling if at all possible, to use traction devices and pack an emergency kit.

The build-up of ice and snow also could lead to downed limbs and power outages. Authorities warned residents to be prepared to be without power for several hours, possibly longer. An outage map maintained by Clark Public Utilities was already showing scattered outages Saturday evening.

Wintry weather has led to flight cancellations at PDX and the cancellation or delay of numerous events throughout the metro area. One service set to continue Sunday is a memorial for Air Force Capt. Christopher Stover, who died Jan. 7 in a training flight along the English coast. The service is at 2 p.m. at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in east Vancouver, 17010 N.E. Ninth St.

Temperatures are expected to remain near freezing until a more significant weather system moves into the area on Tuesday. The Monday morning commute looks dicey, forecasters said.

Pleasant start to day

The conditions were more idyllic when Saturday started. Snow returned to the area about 10 a.m., bringing fat flakes that boosted snowfall totals and offered more opportunities to play in the snow.

On Saturday afternoon, people far outnumbered dogs at Ross Dog Park near Interstate 5 and Highway 99. They were using inner tubes, sleds and snow boards to make it down the large hill.

At a much smaller slope near the parking area, Ben and Heather Anderson used a more unconventional recreational vehicle: A laundry basket. The Andersons, who are from Whitefish, Mont., are accustomed to snow but not in Vancouver, where they've lived for three years. Caught off-guard by the storm, they went to stores to find a sled for their 3-year-old daughter, only to find the shelves bare.

Heather Anderson said Zoey saw people sledding on television. After finishing a load of laundry, she realized a basket might do the trick.

It's not the best, Ben Anderson said, after watching his daughter slide down.

"There's no directional control," he said.

Still, it was enough to bring a smile to Zoey's face.

Road problems limited

The biggest headache for Washington State Patrol Troopers early Saturday was created by drivers of tractor-trailer drivers who were pulling over on Interstate 5 southbound near the Clark County Fairgrounds to put on chains, which are required in Oregon.

WSP Trooper Will Finn said he understands why drivers don't want to get off the freeway, but said troopers would prefer it if they would chain up in a parking lot.

"We don't want them to stop on I-5," he said.

He said he had also received reports of people towing passengers behind their all-terrain vehicles on state Route 503.

"We don't want people out there doing that," he said. "We want people to keep it on their own property."

One of the more unusual weather-related events occurred Friday morning on Interstate 5, when William Kenney was cited for driving an illegal vehicle on a state route. Finn said Kenney, of Vancouver, was driving a backhoe that he had rented. He had escort vehicles in front of him and behind him.

"The fact of the matter is, he was driving that backhoe as a vehicle," Finn said.

Kenney was also cited for driving with a suspended license and failure to have an interlock ignition device.

Helping hands

Even before the arrival of sleet and then ice on Saturday evening, volunteers with Silver Star Search and Rescue have been working around the clock since snow started accumulating in Clark County on Thursday, bringing nurses and doctors to work at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center and Memorial Health Center.

The service, called Nurse's Net, was started during a January 1980 snowstorm, said Rick Blevins, who started volunteering with the Washougal-based nonprofit organization when he was a teenager.

Blevins, 53, said Saturday this was the sixth time Nurse's Net has been activated as part of the medical center's contingency plans. PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center's spokesman, Ken Cole, said Saturday that the volunteers were a critical part of keeping the hospital adequately staffed.

Blevins said a medical center personnel supervisor called Thursday, alerting Silver Star that doctors and nurses were having difficulty getting to work. Silver Star coordinator Sean Candee sent a text message to about 30 Silver Star volunteers, and as many as nine have been working as drivers.

Blevins, who lives two miles from PeaceHealth, worked 18 hours before going home to rest; Candee, who lives in Battle Ground, said Saturday he hadn't been home since Thursday, as the medical center provides beds for volunteers.

A temporary command center was set up in a conference room. As of Saturday afternoon the snack table included cookies, soft drinks, coffee and chocolate.

"Our dispatcher hasn't gone home," Blevins said.

Seven drivers were working Saturday, all using their personal four-wheel drive vehicles. Blevins said he'd been as far north as Ridgefield and as far east as the county border. He had to put on chains once, when he needed to navigate Northeast Davis Road south of Hockinson. Before he started his Saturday evening shift, he said drivers had made 120 trips since Thursday.

"We've had zero mechanical problems, zero accidents," Blevins said. "And that's what we strive for, safety."

Newer drivers stick to mostly flat terrain, Blevins said, while he welcomes the most challenging routes. With freezing rain in the forecast, he said they'll extend estimated driving times, to ensure employees make it to work on time.

He estimated each volunteer will spend more than $100 on gas during the storm, but they are more than happy to help.

"It's exciting," he said.