‘New Year’s’ storm causes treacherous travel

The sudden snow squall challenges traffic but provides unexpected chilly fun …

The sudden snowstorm makes SE 148th Avenue in the outer East Portland neighborhood of Centennial, look like a snow-covered country path.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

By the time most people took a look out their window, on the first Sunday morning of the New Year, on January 3rd, the ground was covered with a light blanket of snow.

Many residents took the opportunity to head out for winter activities like sledding, or just tramping through the snow.

And it was a real storm. A leading indicator of changing weather patterns is Barometric Pressure; and starting with a high of 30.1 at midnight, pressure steadily dropped throughout the day to a rather deep 29.6 by the day’s end.

Snow began falling at 6:53 a.m., as the temperature hovered within a degree or so of 30.0°F throughout the day.

A big-rig tow truck works to free this TriMet bus from the snowbank and drag it up SE 45 Avenue.

However, the “surprise” snow storm – only a sleet storm had been forecast for that evening – caused havoc with public transportation. Along the TriMet MAX Light Rail lines, the agency began running special “ice buster” trains designed to peel frozen precipitation off of the overhead catenary electric power lines. TriMet busses became stuck on hills.

And many drivers didn’t fare much better, as they slid out of control – crashing into other vehicles and stationary objects.

In the Gateway area, this car ran into a median on NE Halsey Street, after having navigated the ice-slick fly-over crossing the I-205 Freeway.

No one was injured, but this crash of a Chevy Tahoe into a police cruiser on I-84 slowed down the eastbound freeway for hours near Parkrose.

At 8:28 a.m., Portland Police Bureau (PPB) North Precinct officer was investigating a traffic crash on I-84 westbound at approximately 148th Avenue when a driver in a 2001 Chevy Tahoe crashed into a parked police car with the police officer seated inside the car.

“The officer suffered minor injuries and was taken to the hospital, for treatment, by another officer,” said PPB Public Information Officer Sgt. Pete Simpson. “Neither the driver of the Tahoe nor her passenger was injured in the crash.”

The snowstorm stopped at 12:53 p.m., but “light ice pellets” which turned to freezing rain began just one hour later.

Checking the incoming storm at his workstation is National Weather Service is Meteorologist Clinton Rockey.

To find out more about this weather system, East Portland News visited the region’s NOAA regional weather station in Parkrose, and spoke with National Weather Service Senior Meteorologist Clinton Rockey.

“We kind of expected something to come up here today,” Rockey began. “We did not expect a snowstorm this morning! But, lo and behold, we woke up this morning and my kids were excitedly pointing out that it was snowing outside of my house!”

In the Midway District, this landmark sign indicates the temperature is well below freezing.

Rockey said it was caused by a “little band of moisture” coming up from the south. “It wasn’t a huge amount of moisture; if it had been, with the cold air coming down from the north, and moving in from the Columbia Gorge, we would have seen a blizzard. It looks like Portland’s getting about an inch of snow today.”

The weather forecaster accurately predicted the afternoon sleet storm that turned into freezing rain. “There is still a lot of cold air rolling of the gorge and from the Cascades,” Rockey told us. “It looks like it is going to be pretty cold through the week.”

His prediction was accurate, because snow and ice lingered on the ground in many of the neighborhoods throughout the week.

Enjoying the unexpected snow in the neighborhood, Jordan Anderson tows his son Lucas on a sled.

With temperatures below freezing overnight, most of outer East Portland got a “snow day” on Monday, December 4, as ice covered streets and sidewalks made travel treacherous.

The storm system continued to confound TV weathercasters into the week. Area schools were closed both Monday and Tuesday; and much of local government shut down for a day or two.

Is this our last winter storm for the season? “That is difficult to predict,” Rockey said. “We’re having unusual weather patterns. When the ‘wet meets the cold’, we’ll see freezing rain or snow.”

© 2016 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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