Wednesday: Schools closed, WES disrupted, chains required as snow blankets region
The most snowfall in the Portland area since 2008 has caused widespread shutdowns and outages.
Power companies and road crews scrambled Wednesday morning to respond to a larger-than-anticipated snowstorm that left as much as a foot of snow on the ground across the Portland area overnight.
All area school districts, including the Beaverton, Hillsboro, Sherwood, Tigard-Tualatin and West Linn-Wilsonville school districts, are closed. Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District facilities, the Oregon Zoo, Washington County libraries, and most city buildings and state offices in the region were also shut for the day. A power outage in downtown Hillsboro prematurely closed several Washington County buildings.
TriMet announced that bus service as of Wednesday morning is limited, with bus routes that normally do not operate on Sunday canceled for the day and all vehicles operating with chains — a requirement, the Oregon Department of Transportation announced, for any motor vehicle traveling in the Portland area on Wednesday.
Snow totals announced by the National Weather Service for the area range from 6 to 12 inches across the Portland metropolitan area as of 4 a.m. Just before 6:45 a.m., the NWS Portland forecasting office Tweeted that there was about 14.5 inches of snow on the ground in the West Hills.
The depth of snow was measured as low as 4 inches in Sherwood but was generally higher elsewhere, with Portland proper seeing 8 to 12 inches and Hillsboro receiving about 9 inches, according to the NWS.
Between 2 and 4 inches of snow on top of what fell overnight is expected Wednesday, the NWS said.
Initial forecasts for the snowstorm had between 1 and 4 inches falling. The NWS admitted on Twitter late Tuesday night that the force of the storm came as a surprise, as its modeling predicted at most 6 inches for the region.
"We under forecast this event," NWS Portland Tweeted at 11:44 p.m. "We saw (6 inches) as the very max possibility. This storm wayyy over-performed."
The amount of snow was the most in the Portland area since a major winter storm in December 2008 that disrupted travel and canceled flights in and out of Portland International Airport, according to the forecast office.
Temperatures are expected to remain around or below freezing until this weekend at the earliest.
Downed trees and lines were reported throughout the area, with a fallen tree disrupting WES service between Beaverton and Wilsonville early on Wednesday morning, TriMet said. The tree was cleared, but delays were expected to continue.
Beaverton Mayor Denny Doyle said it was the worst snow storm he has encountered since he took office in 2008.
"We prepared for the worst case imaginable, and by God, we got it," Doyle said.
Snowplows were out overnight and into Wednesday morning. However, major traffic delays were reported by The Times' sister radio station, 860 KPAM, on highways and freeways like Interstate 5 and Highway 217.
Interstate 5 was closed at Barbur Boulevard for plowing at around 9 a.m., The Times' media affiliate KOIN 6 News reported. Road crews laid down deicer and gravel to ease the flow of traffic there in icy conditions.
Several lanes were closed on Highway 26 as of the start of the morning commute hours, and the highway was closed at Glencoe Road in North Plains due to fallen trees, the Washington County Sheriff's Office reported just after 8:45 a.m. Trees were down on Interstate 205 at Stafford Road just outside Tualatin, according to the Oregon State Police, causing probable delays there.
Trees fell and closed Beef Bend Road at 131st Avenue near King City and Tigard, the Washington County Roads Department said.
Northwest Cornelius Pass Road, a major commuter route between Aloha and Hillsboro in the south and Northwest Portland and Columbia County in the north, closed between Skyline Boulevard and Highway 30 due to snow and ice and downed power lines, reported Multnomah County on Twitter.
Portland General Electric reported about 37,000 customers were without power as of 6:30 a.m., with the largest single share of outages in Clackamas County. About 8,600 of customers without power are in Washington County, the power company said.
KOIN 6 News reported that hundreds of cars were abandoned on roads and freeways across the region. At the time I-5 was closed at Barbur Boulevard, it Tweeted, there were "many stranded cars and semi-trucks" on the freeway.
Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue said its crews continued to respond to emergency calls despite the "snowpacalypse."
"So far, call volume has not been higher than normal," a Facebook post from TVF&R stated Wednesday morning. "All our rigs are chained up and our firefighters are well trained to solve problems and deal with the unique challenges that fighting fire during cold weather can present."
Beaverton's State of the City address was scheduled for Wednesday evening. The city announced it has been canceled and will be rescheduled.
Despite the snow, a couple of businesses on Broadway Street in Old Town Beaverton opened without fail.
Broadway Saloon saw a large breakfast crowd for a Wednesday, and a full bar of patrons spoke in a flurry about the snow.
Bartender Tracey Gatmin said, "The owner is willing to drive us to and from work in bad weather. He doesn't make us go in to work if we're not comfortable."
On Canyon Road, Tom's Pancake House was bustling at lunchtime Wednesday despite the cold weather. Many nearby businesses were dark.
Snow is not expected to begin melting until this weekend and early next week, but the NWS has already expressed concern about flooding of local rivers and streams. Flooding events typically occur either when there is heavy precipitation for a prolonged period of time, significant snow and ice melt, or a combination of the two.
The Tualatin River last flooded in West Linn and upriver from Tualatin in December 2015. The localized flooding in that event, which closed a handful of low-lying roads, parks and parking lots, was much more limited than a catastrophic flood in February 1996. That "great flood" was blamed on snow and ice melting in the Coast Range combined with heavy rainfall.
Editor's note: KOIN 6 News contributed to this report. The story has been updated with more information on the winter storm and comments from Beaverton residents.
By Mark Miller