An ice storm shut down parts of major highways and interstates Wednesday in Oregon and Washington state and paralyzed towns along the Columbia River Gorge, with up to 2 inches of ice coating the ground in some places.
As temperatures hovered around freezing, Interstate 84 was shut down for a 45-mile stretch in Oregon. Transportation officials had no immediate plans to reopen the highway connecting Oregon and Idaho.
Dozens of semitrailer-trucks with no place to go were lined up and double-parked along ramps near the point of the closure.
‘Back to the truck stop’
“They just towed me out because they want to clear the road, but I don’t think I-84 is back open,” said Brad Cottle, a trucker who got stuck in the mess and spent the night in his cab. “I’m going to have to go back to the truck stop.”
Bonneville, on the Washington state side of the Columbia River, had 2 inches of ice, and Hood River, on the Oregon side, got 1.5 inches, said Andy Bryant, a hydrologist at the National Weather Service office in Portland.
The agency doesn’t keep detailed statistics on ice storms, he said, but meteorologists compared the scene to severe storms in 1996 and 2004.
“That kind of ice accumulation is pretty unusual,” Bryant said. “This is a big one.”
Flooding risk in Portland
Meanwhile, in Portland, rising temperatures and rain after days of freezing weather, snow and ice raised the risk of flooding.
Nearly 10 inches of snow fell in Portland last week, and some areas saw up to a foot. Freezing temperatures kept the snow on the ground until Wednesday, when it began to melt.
Emergency officials urged residents living along creeks and streams to watch for flooding and stockpile sandbags.
To the east, the ice storm paralyzed small towns in the gorge.
There was little relief in sight as a low-pressure system pulled cold air from the eastern part of the state into the gorge.
Billy Graham, 57, was trying to visit friends and family in the area after driving from Texas but was stranded at a Motel 6 along Interstate 84 in Troutdale. He hadn’t been able to get out of his room, even on foot, because of the slick pavement, he said in a telephone interview.
“I tried to get out yesterday, and I couldn’t even get out of the parking lot. I haven’t eaten in a couple of days,” he said. “You can’t even walk. If you do, you fall down.”
In eastern Oregon, I-84 was also closed near Ontario, and Interstate 82 was also shut down between I-84 and the Washington border.
The cities of La Grande and Baker City could get more than a foot of snow by Thursday, Bryant said.
I-90 shut over Snoqualmie Pass
In Washington state, Interstate 90, the main highway connecting western and eastern Washington, was to remain closed over Snoqualmie Pass because of hazardous winter conditions. Crews will re-evaluate the roadway Thursday morning.
Charles McCaskill, a trucker heading to Nebraska to deliver frozen salmon, was pulled over along the shoulder of I-90 Wednesday afternoon, waiting for the highway to reopen.
“It’s just one of those things we’ve got to deal with. If it’s not the snow, it’s avalanches. That’s the way it goes,” said the Florida trucker who slept in his cab overnight.
The Washington State Patrol said troopers responded to 67 collisions overnight because roads were covered with layers of snow, sleet and freezing rain.