Winter storm brings record-tying snowfall

Find out what caused the freezing rain, sleet and snow across outer East Portland, so accurately forecast last week …

When a forecast winter storm hits, blanketing the area with snow and ice, many outer East Portland thoroughfares go unplowed for some time, such as here – SE Stark Street, in the Hazelwood neighborhood’s business district.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

The big winter storm of 2021 shouldn’t have been a surprise when it rolled in on February 11 – it was accurately predicted by weather forecasters. But it was a record-setter, dumping freezing rain, sleet, and snow on outer East Portland neighborhoods, and tying a Portland weather record.

Within 24 hours, residential streets became impassable to anything but trucks with tire chains. Ice forming on trees broke limbs that took down electrical power lines and Internet trunk lines in unprecedented numbers.

The storm causes some businesses to struggle to stay open, such as Pizza Baron on SE 122nd Avenue. Most of their employees did manage to make it in to make fresh, hot food for takeout and delivery to those shut in by the winter’s blast.

After having no electricity for a day or so, some grocery stores lost entire sections of refrigerated and frozen foods that warmed beyond safety limits, spoiled,and were discarded.

The storm left a crazy-quilt patchwork of streets with no electricity for days, while others nearby never lost power. The electric outages affected several grocery stores, causing fresh dairy, meats, and deli items to become spoiled and have to be discarded.

Nevertheless, this reporter was among those venturing out to document the storm with photographs, capturing families playing in the snow and ice – as well as to photographing some of the damage left behind.

Inside the Portland National Weather Service office in the Parkrose neighborhood, forecasters accurately predicted the winter snow and ice that paralyzed outer East Portland.

A spot-on forecast
National Weather Service Meteorologist Rebecca Muessle helped East Portland News understand more about this storm – a wintery blizzard unlike any in the Rose City in the past 40 years.

“Here in the Portland area, it’s easy for a snow forecast to be wrong,” Muessle reflected. “We use weather models when forecasting all storms; but, with snow events, it’s a matter of timing.

“We’re pleased – from the forecasting point of view – that we were able to accurately predict this one, because our job is to be as accurate as can be, to help predict hazards to life and property,” she added.

Ice-covered snow made for treacherous driving along SE 122nd Avenue, in the Powellhurst-Gilbert neighborhood.

It doesn’t take much an incline to encourage neighbors to go sledding down hills in nearby parks.

Anatomy of a storm
“Leading up to the storm, on February 10, a lot of cold air was pushing south – technically, it’s called an ‘Arctic air mass’. It moved into, and eventually filled, the Columbia River basin,” explained Muessle. “A high pressure center over the Pacific Ocean caused easterly winds, much like what we saw in September – which pulled all that cold air into the Portland area. That met with a series of storm fronts, pushing inland  from the west, carrying moisture

“That combination of incoming moist air from the west, meeting the cold winds coming from the east, set the stage for this storm.”

February 11 registered a high temperature of 40°. But, with a high temperature of only 30° on February 12 as the chilled air started to filter in, the falling rain soon turned to snow – followed by ice, later in the day.

Just before the big snowstorm hit and halted service citywide on Sunday, a TriMet MAX Light Rail Line Green Line train pulls out of the Lents Town Center station.

Ties snowfall record
“On Friday, February 12, we measured a snowfall of 6.1 inches – which tied the record for Portland’s highest single-day snowfall, set on February 19, 1993,” Muessle pointed out.

There was then a lull on Saturday, February 13 – but the weather changed again on Valentine’s Day, Sunday, February 14. “We had cold air in a low-level easterly wind; but aloft, about 1,000 feet above the ground, and a southwesterly wind was bring in warmer air, loaded with moisture.

A Brentwood-Darlington neighbor said when this tree stem fractured with a rumbling “crack”, the ground shook. Fortunately, the car suffered only minor scratches.

“When the rain fell through the cold east wind and hit the cold trees, wires, and the ground, it froze on contact, causing heavy ice accumulation,” observed Muessle.

“On Monday, once the sun rose and east wind stopped, and almost everything began to thaw and we went into a warming pattern.” But the damage was already done.
“Models aren’t currently showing any other blast of cold air coming in,” she assured.

The weight of accumulated ice proved too much for many sturdy trees in outer East Portland, causing massive branches to crash to the ground.

Utility crews worked diligently on 24-hour shifts to restore power, telephone, and Internet services, but even with the help of utility crews responding from other states, full repair, and restoration to service, to the thousands damaged poles and downed lines required many days of hard work.

© 2021 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News™


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