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News / Clark County News

Storm creates icy roads throughout Clark County

Ice storm caps off pattern of wintry weather, no major new power outages

By Griffin Reilly, Columbian staff writer
Published: January 17, 2024, 6:48pm
5 Photos
Motorists in southeast Vancouver carefully drive along icy roads Wednesday morning.
Motorists in southeast Vancouver carefully drive along icy roads Wednesday morning. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

An ice storm that swept through Portland and Southwest Washington made for frozen roads Wednesday and added to the remnants of the weekend’s snow.

Leaders in public works and transportation made one thing clear to Clark County: Don’t drive unless you absolutely need to.

“Our main message is to please stay home until we have the thaw,” said Nicole Walters, a spokesperson for the city of Vancouver’s Public Works department. “There is still a lot of ice out there. The freeways and main arterials are clearing up, but those side streets and neighborhoods are still very icy.”

A National Weather Service meteorologist at the Portland office said Wednesday that guidance extends into Thursday, despite the expectation of rising temperatures.

C-Tran suspended several of its routes Wednesday, including express routes to and from Portland, and saw major delays in downtown Vancouver. A spokesman from C-Tran encouraged customers to “delay travel” Wednesday if possible, but the agency hoped most routes would be cleared soon.

A stretch of Grand Boulevard between Northeast 20th Avenue and Mill Plain Boulevard was closed Wednesday; city officials said the particularly steep portion of the road was dangerous amid icy conditions.

Clark Public Utilities saw a jump in outages with close to 20,000 customers losing power by Wednesday afternoon, though most outages were brief. Crews were still responding late in the afternoon for a tree into power lines that caused an outage for more than 350 customers in Washougal.

“We had a few outages (Tuesday) night. We had crews who slept at our offices, ready to go at a moment’s notice,” said Dameon Pesanti, a spokesman for the agency. “Everything went really well. The entire grid held up well to this ice storm.”

The agency said it was prepared to dispatch crews to help deal with larger outages across the river in Oregon.

Schools across the county were closed for a second day Wednesday, extending the holiday weekend to five days. Some school districts had planned for a two-hour delay Wednesday morning before driving conditions proved worse than expected. Late Wednesday afternoon, several school districts had already announced plans for late starts Thursday.

Clark County offices will be closed a third day to in-person services. Thursday’s closure includes the Joint Lobby, which provides in-person services for the treasurer, auditor and assessor’s offices. But Clark County Superior Court and District Court are open for in-person services Thursday.

The city of Vancouver planned to open in-person services at 10 a.m. Thursday.

Storm drawn out

Though Sunday and Monday saw periods of clear skies, city and county work crews remained on 12-hour shifts to prepare for the ice storm.

“When there’s an extended event like this your approach has to adjust. It’s sort of like going from a sprint to a marathon,” Pesanti said. “Most of these storms hit hard and fast, it’s like a full-court press.”

The ice storm, he said, didn’t end up being as bad as expected — and certainly more manageable than the snow on Saturday. By the time freezing rain started falling Tuesday, most major roads had been plowed so that the added precipitation was minimal.

“The wind is what can really make things problematic, especially in the forested areas of the community,” he said.

Without heavy winds to match the ice, there were far fewer reports of downed trees Wednesday morning than in previous days, especially in west Vancouver farther from the Columbia River Gorge.

State Highway 14 was closed in both directions Wednesday to all traffic from Milepost 19 near Evergreen Boulevard east of Washougal to Milepost 65 near Hood River Bridge Road. There is no estimate on when the highway will reopen.

Interstate 84 in Oregon also remained closed between Troutdale at Milepost 17 and Hood River at Milepost 64, according to the Oregon Department of Transportation’s website Wednesday afternoon.

Waiting for the ‘thaw’

By midday Wednesday temperatures in Vancouver climbed above freezing for the first time since the weekend and were expected to keep rising into the mid-30s Thursday. In turn, work crews in Clark County will be fully focused on plowing as opposed to any further salt treatment.

After a series of high-alert days, crews in Vancouver and Clark County said they’re looking forward to taking their feet off the gas.

11 Photos
Nicole Jordan and Maria Malone of Vancouver carefully navigate an icy parking lot at the Cascade Park Fred Meyer store while on their way to pick up groceries Wednesday morning, Jan. 17, 2024. The pair said the winter weather made getting around a bit more challenging. "We're making the best of it," Malone said.
January Ice Storm Photo Gallery

“This is what we do,” said Ryan Lapossa, the city’s transportation manager. “It overall went by all right. People that didn’t need to be on the roads seemed to stay home. We’re glad to be coming into the tail end of this event.”

The National Weather Service in Portland, however, said the thaw won’t be rapid, with an additional chance of wintry precipitation Thursday night.

By the weekend, the Portland and Vancouver area can expect a significant warming back into the 40s, with any further precipitation coming as rain.