Frigid temperatures in Pacific Northwest amid cold front
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Frigid temperatures chilled large swaths of the Pacific Northwest Wednesday and are forecast to do so for the rest of the week, as dangerous winter weather conditions continue to grip the region and other parts of the country.
Wednesday night will likely be the coldest night of the season so far in northwestern Washington state, with easterly winds bringing wind chills to subzero temperatures in some areas, the National Weather Service said.
The agency also warned that wind chills on Thursday could plunge to zero degrees in Portland, Oregon and could potentially plummet to 25 degrees below zero in parts of the Cascades in northern Oregon and southern Washington state. Those mountainous areas could receive up to five inches of snow and nearly half an inch of ice, with wind gusts possibly topping 70 miles per hour above the tree line, the agency said.
Freezing rain is expected to be a “significant” concern across western Washington on Thursday, the NWS said.
Coupled with easterly winds, the precipitation could impact travel on portions of Interstate 5 in southwestern Washington, the agency said.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler declared a state of emergency starting Wednesday because of the forecasted severe cold weather. Multnomah County, home to Portland, also has declared an emergency.
The city and the county said they will open four severe weather shelters Wednesday night for as long as conditions require.
Trucks hauled loads of blankets, warm clothes, cots and other shelter supplies from a cavernous warehouse to four shelters being set up, including in the Oregon Convention Center.
The biggest worry is the precipitous drop in temperature expected Thursday in a region where temperatures lower than 25 degrees Fahrenheit happen just a few times a year. With wind chill, those living on the streets this could experience temperatures that feel like it’s below zero, said Chris Voss, director of emergency management in Portland’s Multnomah County.
“The Pacific Northwest is really seeing extraordinarily cold temperatures for us,” he said. “I think in my seven and a half years living in the Pacific Northwest and specifically here in my local area, I don’t remember a specific instance where I can remember temperatures quite this low. ... This is absolutely not to be taken lightly.”
Seattle has also opened additional shelter space, including at City Hall, according to King County’s regional homeless authority. Officials said some shelters could remain open until Saturday.
The Seattle area will remain cool the rest of the week, with high temperatures close to freezing and lows in the teens and 20s, the National Weather Service said.
Wind chills as low as ten degrees below zero have been forecast around Bellingham in northwestern Washington and parts of the northern Cascades from Thursday evening through Friday evening, according to a National Weather Service advisory.
On Tuesday, snowfall and icy conditions disrupted travel across the Pacific Northwest. Authorities have warned that those disruptions will likely continue as the week goes on amid forecasts of freezing rain and snow.
In Canada, the Vancouver Airport Authority said it will be temporarily limiting arriving international flights from Wednesday through Friday morning because of “congestion” in its airfield. The airport said it is prioritizing departures after heavy snow Tuesday prevented “a significant number of aircraft” from taking off from the city’s YVR airport for several hours that day, resulting in mass cancellations.
Improving conditions on Wednesday facilitated some arrivals and departures. Airport officials said that they’re preparing for the severe weather expected on Thursday, but added that passengers should still expect delays.
While air traffic improved slightly at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Wednesday, with 53 flights cancelled as of 5 p.m. compared to hundreds the previous day, delays were still affecting about 390 flights, according to online tracker FlightAware.
Road conditions remain dangerous across parts of the region.
In eastern Idaho, nearly 50 miles of U.S. Highway 20, which leads to the western entrance of Yellowstone National Park, have been closed. The state’s department of transportation said the road closure between Ashton and the Montana state line is because of drifting snow, reduced visibility and “extremely hazardous driving conditions.”
In Portland, transportation officials said they covered roads with more than 4,000 gallons of de-icer on Tuesday night.
One person died in an accident on Interstate 84 in the Columbia River Gorge on Tuesday when a semi-truck collided with their SUV. The Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office said the thin layer of ice on the major highway may have been a contributing factor.
“Significant icing” could affect parts of northwestern Oregon and the Willamette Valley on Thursday and Friday, the National Weather Service said. The agency has issued a winter storm watch for those areas, urging residents to prepare for possible power outages, tree damage and difficult travel conditions because of ice.
Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue, whose service area stretches across Portland’s western suburbs and includes rural areas, said it is staffing additional ambulance units to respond to calls for service and preparing to switch from large fire engines to more maneuverable vehicles.
The impending storm was good for some people, though. Business was brisk at Portland’s oldest independently owned hardware store.
A steady stream of customers bought rock salt, windshield de-icer, shovels and covers for their external faucets to prevent pipes from freezing. Norman Chusid, whose family has owned Ankeny Hardware for nearly 75 of its 115 years, said he had done three days’ worth of business by noon on Wednesday.
“Portlanders are not always great about being prepared. They look for ice melt after there’s four inches of snow on the ground,” he said. “This time they’re really taking it to heart.”
Associated Press reporter Gillian Flaccus in Portland, Ore., and Associated Press writer Lisa Baumann in Bellingham, Washington, contributed to this report.