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by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: ROBIN JOHNSON - A traffic accident involving three cars, one mile south of Cornelius Pass Road on Highway 30, causes a bottleneck for morning commuters Friday.Winter weather that impacted Oregon and Washington late Thursday, Dec. 5, and Friday, Dec. 6, took its toll on south Columbia County communities and associated areas Friday morning.

The first snow of the season clung to roadways after several days of freezing and near-freezing temperatures, creating slick conditions that left cars in ditches along Highway 30 and rendered Northwest Cornelius Pass Road a treacherous commute for area residents going to work in Washington County.

At least one person died in Friday's winter weather. A single-vehicle crash 4 miles west of Clatskanie shortly after noon was confirmed to be fatal by the Oregon State Police.

Lonny Welter of the Columbia County Road Department said Friday morning that the county's limited crews and equipment were focusing on clearing roads at higher elevations. He said snow in the Scappoose and St. Helens areas was falling harder in the south.

“It seems like the farther south in that district we go, or the higher we go, is where we start encountering the snow,” Welter said. He added, “We only have about five or six guys, and so they're going to be concentrating on the higher elevations, where the steeper roads are.”

Welter and Scappoose Industrial Airpark manager Craig Allison said there were 2 to 3 inches of snow on the ground in Scappoose by about 9:45 a.m., although Welter said accumulation tapered off significantly north of Scappoose, with only about half an inch on the ground in St. Helens and less than that further north. The snow stopped before noon, leaving a total of 3 to 4 inches of snow at the airport, Allison said Friday afternoon.

After a flurry of announcements from the county's school districts that they would have a late start or place buses on snow routes, administrators gave students and staff a snow day in the Scappoose and St. Helens school districts, as well as the Clatskanie and Rainier school districts.

Janine Salisbury, business manager for the St. Helens School District, said a maintenance worker found central heating in one of the buildings at the high school was not working properly at about 5 a.m. Friday morning, which prompted the district to order that school start two hours late.

by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: ROBIN JOHNSON - Snow plow spreads gravel on Highway 30 in Scappoose.Three hours later, she said, Durham School Services — the bus company with which the district contracts — called to advise the district that road conditions were too hazardous for them to send school buses out.

“The roads will look fine in town, but out in the further reaches, where the buses have to go, you can't do it,” Salisbury said, noting that bus routes for the district stretch up into the hills west of Highway 30, picking up students in the Yankton area and other rural outskirts.

The districts' closure also prompted the cancellation of the planned boys' basketball game between Scappoose High School and St. Helens High School that was to take place Friday evening, the Scappoose School District office confirmed. The game may be rescheduled.

The Columbia County government typically remains closed Fridays due to budget constraints. However, Emergency Management division head Renate Garrison said in an email Friday morning that her staff was “actively monitoring the situation.”

“We are in contact with county response partners and are updating neighboring counties with our status,” Garrison wrote.

Garrison also said road crews were sanding county roads to mitigate icing.

Columbia County Sheriff Jeff Dickerson described road conditions as “slippery” in an email Friday morning. He said the Sheriff's Office has received reports of “typical fender benders and people going off the road.”

“The worst spots appear to be in Scappoose and North County,” Dickerson wrote. “The St. Helens area is slippery, too, but not as much accumulation from what I have seen.”

by: SPORLIGHT PHOTO: ROBIN JOHNSON - Dutch Canyon Road in Scappoose was officially closed as of about 12:15 p.m. Friday, according to the Columbia County Roads Department. The Department estimated the road would be reopened at around 3 p.m.. Roberto Ceja, of St. Helens, stuck his truck in a ditch while attempting to turn around at the intersection of Old Portland Road and Dutch Canyon Road and had to be pulled out.Crashes were reported along Highway 30, including two in Warren, one in Scappoose and another near the intersection with Cornelius Pass Road, which shut down two westbound lanes of traffic beginning at about 8:50 a.m., according to the Oregon Department of Transportation's online TripCheck feature.

“We would advise people to avoid the area, but that's almost a silly statement given that that's the way in,” said Dave Thompson, an ODOT official, on Friday morning. “So we just ask people's patience.”

Crashes on Highway 30 can cause bottlenecking on the main route in and out of Columbia County, as it is the only direct road connection between south county communities and Portland.

Further north and west along the road, a crash temporarily shut down Highway 30 about 11 miles west of Clatskanie just before 10 a.m. About two and a half hours later, a second crash, which resulted in a fatality, closed the highway again about 4 miles west of Clatskanie.

To the south, Cornelius Pass remained open throughout the snowy morning, according to Multnomah County spokesman Mike Pullen. About 3 inches of snow piled up on Cornelius Pass Road by 11:20 a.m., Pullen said, and traffic was moving slowly on the road.

“We had periodic delays due to the semi-trucks having to stop to put chains on,” Pullen said. “When a big truck does stop on that road, everything behind it comes to a halt.”

by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: ROBIN JOHNSON - An auto accident at the intersection of Havlik Drive and Highway 30 in Scappoose was one of several in Columbia County that backed up traffic along the highway. Meanwhile, the Columbia County Roads Department announced that Dutch Canyon Road in Scappoose was officially closed as of about 12:15 p.m. Friday. The department estimated the road would reopen at about 3 p.m.

Dave Hill, public works director with the Columbia County Roads Department said several cars were “ditched” along Dutch Canyon Road in Scappoose Friday morning, causing severe congestion. “That seems to be where most of the snow has accumulated,” Hill said. “We have our people out there and will sending more traffic control until we can put more sand and gravel on the road,” he said Friday morning.

traffic collisions continued to occur after in the county even after major roads were covered with sand and gravel. A broken-down car at the intersection of Havlik Drive and Highway 30 in Scappoose resulted in a non-injury, two-car “fender-bender” Friday afternoon that, according to Scappoose Police Sgt. Dennis Viereck, was one of several within the city limits. After the car broke down, Viereck said, two other cars attempting to stop at the intersection slammed into each other. “People aren't prepared for it,” he said, regarding the approximately three inches of snow that had accumulated in the city. Viereck added that, as of 1:30 p.m. on Friday, there had been six similar incidents within the city and 12 within the city limits.

Friday's snow came as a surprise to meteorologists who predicted that the system would largely bypass the Portland metropolitan area.

Mark Nelsen, chief meteorologist at the Fox 12 news station in Portland, wrote on the Fox 12 Weather Blog at 6:45 a.m. Friday, “It appears all of our models may have been wrong since the main snow band seems to be setting up a good 50 miles farther north than we expected.”

Nelsen concluded, “After the disastrous December 2009 evening commute when we said it would do very little, I promised myself I wouldn’t hesitate next time it appeared we were way off. I think this may [be] that time.”

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