The Pacific Northwest is preparing for freezing rain and ice, while also dealing with the aftermath of a powerful weekend storm that left tens of thousands of residents without power for several days. This storm has sadly resulted in at least seven deaths.
Freezing rain was predicted for the Seattle area, while an ice storm warning was issued for parts of southwest Washington and western Oregon, including the major cities of Portland, Salem, and Eugene. Meteorologists anticipated up to half an inch of ice accumulation until early Wednesday. However, there was some relief in sight as warmer air was expected to arrive later on Wednesday.
The Pacific Northwest, although renowned for its rain, was not expected to encounter the extreme cold or heavy snowfall that other parts of the United States were experiencing. However, due to its dense forests, the region is particularly susceptible to hazards such as falling trees and power lines, especially during freezing rain and ice storms.
Freezing rain transforms from water to ice upon contact with cold surfaces like roads and other solid objects. This icy precipitation has the potential to burden trees and power lines, increasing the likelihood of breakage, especially during strong winds. The region has experienced severe ice storms in the past, such as those in 2017 and 2021, which caused widespread paralysis and left hundreds of thousands of individuals without electricity.
Oregon transportation officials have closed a 47-mile (76-kilometer) stretch of Interstate 84. This major east-west highway connects Portland to the Columbia River Gorge. The closure is a result of the predicted icy conditions.
The Oregon Department of Transportation stated in a news release that the closure of the Interstate is necessary to ensure the safety of all drivers. Ice accumulation poses a significant risk and creates extremely hazardous driving conditions. They have made the decision to reopen the Interstate once the weather conditions improve.
Over the weekend, severe weather conditions led to tragic incidents resulting in the loss of seven lives. In Lake Oswego, a suburb south of Portland, a man tragically lost his life when a tree struck his house. Similarly, in Portland, a woman was killed when a tree fell on a recreational vehicle, trapping her inside and causing a fire. These unfortunate incidents serve as a reminder of the devastating impact that snow and strong winds can have.
Ryan Cafferky, an arborist in Lake Oswego, embarked on the challenging task of felling a colossal 150-foot (45.7-meter) tree on Tuesday. The city had identified this 120-year-old tree as a potential danger to the public due to its unstable condition, which posed the risk of it toppling over.
Carol Flannery observed as Cafferky, securely fastened into a harness, diligently labored to eliminate the immense tree from her premises. Aside from its advanced age, the presence of cracks and fungus around its roots rendered it alarmingly prone to toppling, she explained.
Arborists warned her that the tree needed to be removed promptly as it was on the verge of falling.
Five individuals in the state of Oregon have tragically lost their lives to hypothermia, according to authorities. These devastating deaths occurred amidst freezing temperatures ranging from the teens to the twenties.
According to poweroutage.us, around 52,000 individuals in Oregon are still without power as of midday Tuesday. The National Weather Service has issued a warning, urging residents to be prepared for additional power outages.
Due to the anticipated ice storm, Portland Public Schools, which is the largest district in the state, decided to cancel classes on Tuesday and Wednesday. This decision resulted in more missed days of in-person learning for students, as they had already experienced a teachers’ strike in November that led to schools being closed for approximately three weeks.
Courts, libraries, and parks in Portland and other parts of Multnomah County were closed as well.
County officials have decided to extend the weather state of emergency until noon on Wednesday. Furthermore, they have made the decision to keep all 12 overnight emergency weather shelters open for an additional night on Tuesday. It is worth noting that a record-breaking number of 1,181 individuals sought shelter in these facilities on Monday night, surpassing the previous night’s record of 1,136.
In response to the pressing need for shelter services in an area where numerous individuals face the risk of cold exposure, officials have issued a desperate plea for volunteers. Thousands of people in this region are living outdoors, making it crucial to have sufficient support and assistance in providing them with a safe and warm place to stay.
According to Dan Field, the director of the joint county-city homelessness office, the main challenge they are currently facing is staffing. He highlights the importance of having enough personnel to ensure that the emergency shelters can remain operational.