Friday, January 24, 2020
Jan. 24, 2020

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Snowplows, stockpiles of salt stand ready for winter storm – if it comes

Transportation departments preparing for worst despite uncertain forecast

By , Columbian staff reporter
Published:
3 Photos
The media turned out in force Friday at Washington State Department of Transportation's maintenance yard in west Vancouver to hear how the biggest transportation agencies are prepared for potential snowy weather next week. (James Rexroad for The Columbian)
The media turned out in force Friday at Washington State Department of Transportation's maintenance yard in west Vancouver to hear how the biggest transportation agencies are prepared for potential snowy weather next week. (James Rexroad for The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Local transportation departments have their trucks fitted with snowplows and large stockpiles of salt on hand, ready for winter weather that may or may not arrive shortly.

Next week is expected to bring cold temperatures and either a little precipitation or perhaps the biggest winter storm since January 2017, when more than a foot of snow blanketed much of Clark County.

Children eager for closed schools and commuters dreading snow-and-ice-covered roads need to stay tuned through the weekend.

“That is the motto for us this week,” said Rebecca Muessle, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Portland. “It’s hard for us to pin down timing or to have a lot of confidence with it.”

Although there is still a chance of low-elevation snow Monday and Tuesday, it more likely will be concentrated at higher elevations, she said.

By Wednesday, the high temperature for the day might be right at or below freezing, with overnight lows dipping to the mid-20s.

Muessle said there is a greater chance for precipitation on Wednesday and Thursday, but she wasn’t ready to predict low-elevation snow.

“Even a 100-mile change in where that low-pressure system sets up could completely change what we get in the valley,” she said.

Public should be ready

With the forecast uncertain, road crews are preparing for the worst.

To demonstrate their readiness, representatives from the biggest transportation departments in Clark County, along with the Washington State Patrol and C-Tran, held a briefing Friday at Washington State Department of Transportation’s maintenance yard in west Vancouver.

“We invited everyone here today to make sure the public is as prepared as we are for this event,” said Brad Clark, WSDOT’s assistant maintenance superintendent, as he stood in front of a row of trucks with plows.

“We’d ask that the public know before you go,” he said. “Before you leave your house, take a look at the road conditions.”

Agencies post information on their websites and disseminate updates through Twitter and other social media.

“We would ask that you drive slow,” Clark said. “Drive to the conditions.”

Ryan Miles, Vancouver street crews superintendent, said during snowy weather, city crews will focus on clearing thoroughfares.

Residents should not expect the city to plow neighborhood streets, he said, although “there are few that have hills we will hit.”

Miles cautioned drivers not to assume everything is fine once they get out of their neighborhoods.

“Be prepared, be safe, and we’ll do our best to keep you moving,” he said.

Trooper Will Finn, spokesman for the Washington State Patrol in Southwest Washington, urged residents to prepare their vehicles now by checking fluid levels and making sure they have a full tank of gas. He also asked drivers not to abandon their vehicles on freeways, no matter how bad the conditions.

If the weather turns snowy or icy, officials say it’s best to telecommute and stay off the roads.

“If you don’t need to drive, don’t drive,” Finn said.

Members of the Washington State Patrol don’t have that luxury during inclement winter weather.

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“When these type of events occur, it’s all hands on deck,” Finn said.

Lots of salt

In addition to plows, crews will use road salt to melt ice. WSDOT has 300 tons of salt in west Vancouver, plus 150 tons in Washougal, 150 tons in Woodland and 100 tons in Fargher Lake. With an application rate of 200 pounds per lane mile, the agency has enough salt in Clark County to treat 7,000 lane miles.

Clark asked residents to allow plenty of room between vehicles, especially trucks plowing roads or applying deicer.

“We want to make sure everyone is safe,” he said.

Transportation agencies will not pretreat roads this weekend because rain would wash away the chemicals.

“We can’t lay it down if there is rain,” said Magan Reed, spokeswoman for Clark County Public Works.

Reed said the county already has responded to snow on Livingston Mountain and other higher elevations.

“We have a lot of different terrain we have to cover,” she said.

C-Tran spokeswoman Christine Selk urged people to take the bus during bad winter weather.

“We have drop-down chains on all of our fixed-route and paratransit vehicles,” she said.

C-Tran offers a Safe Stop program where drivers will honor requests to be dropped off before or after designated stops, as long as it’s safe for the driver to stop, Selk said.

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