Epic snowfall pummels region

Crews dig roads out after storm knocks out power, snarls traffic

By Andy Matarrese, Columbian Breaking News Reporter , Dameon Pesanti, Columbian staff writer , Emily Gillespie, Columbian Breaking News Reporter and Jessica Prokop, Columbian Courts Reporter

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Snow pummeled the Vancouver area Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, leading to county-wide closures, large-scale power outages and treacherous driving conditions. Freezing conditions are expected to last well into the weekend.

Close to a foot of snow fell Tuesday between 7 p.m. and midnight. The snowfall continued throughout the morning Wednesday, blanketing the region with less than a tenth of an inch of fresh powder.

Vancouver’s snowfall didn’t break any records. In Portland, however, the weather service’s official snowfall amount of 6.5 inches Tuesday broke 1998’s record of 2.5 inches.

In an area where a quarter inch of snow can close schools, cancel activities and snarl traffic, the snowfall was epic. Schools, city and county government offices closed Wednesday, as did many banks and clinics, including Kaiser Permanente and the Vancouver Clinic.

Delivery of The Columbian was suspended Wednesday, and with snowy and icy road conditions expected to continue today or even worsen, delivery will be suspended for second day in a row, said Circulation and Production Director Marc Dailey.

“We just don’t want to risk anyone’s safety,” Dailey said. The company will continue to provide access to the e-Edition for free, though, and has added free access to columbian.com, he said.

Waste Connections canceled garbage collection for Wednesday, though plan to allow customers to put out double the amount of waste on their next scheduled service day one week later.

Driving ‘madness’

Multiple jackknifed tractor-trailers and disabled vehicles on Interstate 5 after the storm began in earnest Tuesday night prompted officials to close the freeway and detour traffic onto Interstate 205 for a couple of hours.

Washington State Patrol Trooper Will Finn said from 4 p.m. Tuesday to 3 p.m. Wednesday, troopers responded to 38 disabled vehicles, 27 injury crashes, 34 roadway-blocking incidents, 17 abandoned and non-blocking vehicles, and seven abandoned and blocking vehicles.

“It was madness,” he said.

Local and state road crews worked overnight and into Wednesday, clearing highways, arterial roads and other major roads. Side streets were largely left untouched.

Icy conditions are likely to remain an issue through the rest of the week. Transportation officials urged people to stay home, unless travel is necessary.

“If they really need to hit the roads, they need to know what they’re getting themselves into. This is a snowfall this area hasn’t seen in a long time,” Washington State Department of Transportation spokesman Bart Treece said.

Drivers should be aware of road conditions, confident their vehicles can handle the weather and able to drive in snowy, slick circumstances.

Trees, lines down

Clark Public Utilities District received a few reports of downed tree branches and sagging power lines throughout the city, spokeswoman Erica Erland said Wednesday morning.

Erland has seen images on social media of low hanging power lines that aren’t causing outages, she said, but she doesn’t have the number of those yet. The agency has not received any reports of injuries, Erland added.

“The message right now is to stay as far away from downed power lines,” she said.

Power lines aren’t the only hazard. Natasha Emmett, who lives near West 34th Street and Thompson Avenue in the Fruit Valley neighborhood, said she was making coffee at about 9:20 a.m. when she heard a crash.

She looked out her window to see an oak tree, which normally stands about 50 feet high, had broken and fallen onto cars parked below. No one was injured.

Nearly 15,000 customers in Clark County were left without power at some point, though by 6:30 p.m., only about 75 customers were still in the dark.

The city of Vancouver is also getting a lot of calls about downed tree limbs, and public works is trying to clear them. But if they’ve hit power lines, crews have to wait for Clark Public Utilities to deactivate them first.

To report outages or downed trees and power lines, people should call Clark PUD at 360-992-8000 or 360-992-3000. Erland said people should avoid calling 911 unless it is a true emergency or someone is injured. Clark PUD wants to keep those lines open for the Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency, she said.

Customers can also use Clark PUD’s online reporting tool at clarkpublicutilitiles.com.

Plowing priorities

Treece said during a large storm, WSDOT’s works to keep the roads open and passable — with the ultimate goal to get them bare and wet. If drivers see one of the 10 plows working in Clark County, give them room to plow.

WSDOT crews primarily focused on Interstate 5, Interstate 205 and state Highway 14. Treece said there were reports of some abandoned vehicles along highway ramps, but none blocking lanes. Jeff Mize, Clark County Public Works spokesman, said county public works had nearly 30 pieces of equipment working roads; most were plows, though others responded to snow-related issues such as fallen trees. He said the county won’t be plowing residential streets.

Loretta Callahan, spokeswoman for Vancouver Public Works, said crews are working to ensure major streets that connect to emergency services, as well as overpasses, hilly streets and city-owned bridges are cleared.

“We have a pretty lean crew with a great strategy in terms of covering the city,” she said. “But as a result, we don’t plow or deice side streets or residential areas.”

Side streets aren’t plowed, she said, because of cars parked along curbs, driveways that could be blocked and street narrowness. However, she said crews will access them in case of an emergency.

Getting around

Snow impacted service for several C-Tran routes today, the transit agency announced in a news release. In addition to several service changes, passengers should expect delays.

Express Routes 105, 134 and 199 will only serve the MAX railhead at Delta Park. Route 164 will serve the MAX railhead at Parkrose. Routes 157, 177, 190 and all Connectors will be suspended for the day. Routes 2, 6, 9, 19, 32 and 47 will start the day on snow routes.

C-Van will only give life-sustaining trips. The Vine will operate with 40-foot buses and stop at the safest location closest to Vine platforms.

The agency will assess conditions through the day and give updates when needed.

Portland International Airport was open, but 130 flights were canceled and many others delayed.

Since ice will remain an issue through the rest of the week, Finn said the state patrol is asking motorists to stay at home if they can, and for those who do take to the roads to make sure they’re prepared and honest about their skills behind the wheel.

“Don’t be overconfident in your driving ability,” he said. “Take a step back and say, ‘Can I do this?'”

Cold coming

Snow stopped snowing in downtown Vancouver at about 11 a.m. Wednesday, though flurries continued throughout the day.

According to forecasters at the National Weather Service in Portland, the low-pressure system over Washington and Oregon that brought about a foot of snow to the metro area will give way to cold and dry weather starting today.

More snowfall isn’t expected this week, but with temperatures expected to remain below freezing, there probably won’t be much melting snow, weather service meteorologist Clinton Rockey said.

Skies will get sunnier and high temperatures will likely inch closer to 32 degrees through Saturday, but any melted snow will freeze up quickly, creating a hazard for pedestrians and drivers.

“Even during the daytime, we’re just going to inch back close to freezing,” he said. “There will be a very minimal amount of thawing, but where there is thawing, it will freeze back up during the evening hours.”

Today’s forecast for Vancouver calls for highs around 32 degrees, with nighttime lows around 20 degrees and patchy freezing fog after 10 p.m. Friday will be mostly sunny with a high near 30 degrees. Friday night’s low will be around 23 degrees.

“If you’re a kid you’re going to love it, because you get snow to play in through Saturday,” Rockey said.

That cold and dry weather pattern will start to break starting Saturday, which will see a high of 36 degrees and lows around 25, Rockey said.

More typical, cold and rainy January conditions should return early next week, he said.

Forecasters said a mild, wet weather pattern may bring slightly warmer temperatures and the chance of rain to the area next week.

Sunday may see high temperatures in the high 30s, and a slight chance of rain that evening.

“Monday, I think we’ll see the big melting gets going in earnest,” he said.