[But global warming...] Hundreds of thousands without power after Oregon ice storm

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Leroy N. Soetoro

Feb 16, 2021, 1:51:18 PMFeb 16

LAKE OSWEGO, Ore. — A winter storm blanketed the Pacific Northwest with
ice and snow Saturday, leaving hundreds of thousands of people without
power and disrupting travel across the region.

Freezing rain left roads, power lines and trees coated in ice in the
Portland, Oregon, region, and by Saturday morning more than 270,000 people
were without power. The extreme conditions, loss of power and
transportation problems prompted Oregon Gov. Kate Brown to declare a state
of emergency Saturday afternoon.

“Crews are out in full force now and are coordinating with local emergency
response teams on communications for emergency services, such as warming
centers,” Brown said in a statement. “I’m committed to making state
resources available to ensure crews have the resources they need on the

Winter storms and extreme cold affected much of the western U.S.,
particularly endangering homeless communities. Volunteers and shelter
staffers were trying to ensure homeless residents in Casper, Wyoming, were
indoors as the National Weather Service warned of wind chill reaching as
much as 35 degrees below zero over the weekend. Authorities in western
Washington and western Oregon opened warming shelters in an effort to
protect homeless residents from the wet and cold.

The power outages in the Portland region could extend throughout the
weekend for some, said Elizabeth Lattanner, a spokeswoman for PGE, one of
the major electricity providers in the region.

“In storms like these, restoration takes time given all of the challenges
our crews face in getting to restoration sites and repairing those
outages,” Lattanner said. “We have more than 600 PGE and contract
personnel responding to the storm — it’s all hands on deck.”

Many ice-laden trees snapped under the weight, falling on power lines and
causing transformers to blow out in showers of blue and orange sparks. By
noon Saturday, more than 1,200 PGE power lines were down, Lattanner said.

Brian Zevenbergen watched Saturday as a crew sawed up two large, ice-
covered trees that had crashed across his driveway overnight, narrowly
missing two cars parked there. His house in Lake Owego had also lost power
overnight. Just around the corner, another massive tree blocked the street
in the suburb south of Portland and had taken out a city street light.

“Last night, everything was standing, and this morning the two trees had
me blocked in the driveway and were blocking at least half the street,” he
said. “Friends on the lower levels have power so I have invites to go hang
out there.”

The ice and lost power didn’t stop children from rejoicing at a second
straight day of sledding in a place that rarely sees sustained snowfall.
Residents blocked streets with cones and shooed snowplows away so kids
could sled down ice-slicked hills.

The ice and snowfall caused treacherous driving conditions, forcing Oregon
transportation officials to close Interstate 84 in the Columbia River
Gorge, and the regional transit agency TriMet suspended all bus and train
service in the region.

TriMet spokesperson Tia York asked people to avoid all travel unless it’s
an emergency. “It is too dangerous out there,” York wrote in a statement.

Police in Salem, Oregon, also warned residents in Marion and Polk counties
to watch for downed power lines and falling tree limbs, and the Oregon
State Police said fallen trees blocked several roads across the region.

Some Washington state residents were also socked in by the weather, with
snow falling throughout the Seattle region on Saturday morning and
freezing rain falling along the coast in Grays Harbor County. The city of
Seattle activated its Emergency Operations Center Saturday morning to
coordinate the city’s winter storm response.

Heavy snowfall also led to dangerous driving conditions in parts of
eastern Oregon and southwestern Idaho, with Malheur County, Oregon, and
Boise, Idaho, expected to get as much as 6 inches of snow by Saturday

The National Weather Service said all three states should brace for
another surge of winter moisture to hit the Northwest Sunday night,
potentially leading to more heavy snowfall through Monday. The “unsettled
winter conditions” would likely continue throughout the week, the National
Weather Service said Saturday morning.

Western Washington was expected to get an additional 3 to 6 inches of snow
on Saturday, with another 2 inches possible on Sunday and Monday. Rain
falling on accumulated snow raised the possibility of urban flooding
happening Sunday night or Monday in some areas, according to the National
Weather Service.

The heavy snow made for dangerous avalanche conditions in the many areas
across the Olympics and Cascades mountain ranges, with large avalanches
possible. Officials with the Payette Avalanche Center in west-central
Idaho also warned of increasing avalanche risk in the days ahead.

Idaho’s neighbors to the east were blasted by brutally frigid weather,
with the National Weather Service warning of dangerous wind chills in
Montana and Wyoming. The wind chills were expected to reach as low as 50
degrees below zero in Billings and near Missoula, Montana, and nearly as
low across parts of Wyoming.

Wind chills that low can cause frostbite on exposed skin in just a few
minutes. The bitter cold was expected to last throughout the weekend.

The National Weather Service warned that the wind chill could be dangerous
for pets and young livestock, at a time when calving season is beginning
for many cattle ranchers.

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center also warned of dangerous
avalanche conditions in zones around Aspen, Steamboat and Flat Tops, Grand
Mesa and Gunnison. Frigid temperatures with lows below zero were expected
to last through Monday morning in Denver and across the Colorado plains,
according to the National Weather Service.

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