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Light but thick: snow hits the Gorge

Power company, tow owner offer safety and prevention tips for snow and ice

Kevin Hay, a Pine Street resident and co-owner of nearby E & L Auto Parts, uses his snowblower to clear the block on the Heights Friday morning.

Kevin Hay, a Pine Street resident and co-owner of nearby E & L Auto Parts, uses his snowblower to clear the block on the Heights Friday morning.

With a state-high snowfall in Parkdale and up to 10 inches in Hood River, January’s question “where’s our winter?” got a resounding answer Thursday.

With a total accumulation of 14 inches, Parkdale had received the most snow in the state as of 8 a.m.

According to the National Weather Service Friday morning, Hood River also received upwards of 10 inches and Cascade Locks received 8.

As of press time, the NWS forecast another 3 to 6 inches to fall in the central Columbia River Gorge by Saturday morning.

Hood River County Sheriff Matt English said his department was busy Thursday dealing with numerous accidents on Interstate 84, along with Oregon State Police.

“It was mostly centralized in the areas on the freeway between Hood River and Cascade Locks,” he reported.

Sheriff English added that deputies reported black ice on the freeway formed before snow began fully accumulating, causing accidents in between mileposts 43 and 46 as well as 51 and 54. He said he was not aware of anyone being injured in the accidents.

Off the freeway, English said things were much quieter.

“Within the county, there weren’t any major issues,” he noted. “It’s the same thing every year: a few slide-offs, trucks getting stuck on hills.”

In the city, Police Chief Neal Holste said there were also few issues with traffic.

“We had a few stalled vehicles and a few vehicles that had gotten stuck, but it wasn’t too bad,” he reported mid-morning Friday. “[Hood River] Public works has done a great job of sanding the roads.”

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Mark Lago, the city’s public works director, said half his crew reported to the public works office at 4 a.m. Friday to clear the streets. Others were on-call during the night to ensure main roads such as 12th and 13th streets remained open for motorists.

Lago said despite the accumulation, the dry, airy snow made clearing the streets less difficult than usual.

“This is easy,” he said of the snowfall, “because the snow is so light and fluffy. Usually, we get that wet stuff — we call it ‘mashed potatoes’ — and it’s bad for the plows.”

Despite the dry snow, Lago reported just after 10 a.m., Friday that crews were working on repairing the hydraulic lifts of two plows that had failed. Lago added that the primary and secondary streets in the city had been cleared as of 10:15 a.m. and that crews were working on clearing tertiary streets before the next snowfall hit.

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Schools let out early Thursday, between 10:30 and 11 a.m. at Hood River County District at Horizon Christian School, and classes were cancelled in Hood River and Klickitat counties on Friday, along with Columbia Gorge Community College. Many businesses and offices followed suit, closing shop and sending employees home early.

Hood River County Library closed early on Thursday and remained closed Friday.

The library will likely remain closed on Saturday, director Buzzy Nielsen said. The decision will probably come on Saturday morning, once Nielsen assesses the weather.

School custodial employees came to work before dawn Friday to clear snow from walkways.

Everything stayed on schedule at Hood River Aquatic Center, other than an earlier high school swim team practice. Public swims remained unaffected.

The snowplow service of Your Party and Rental Center fired up the machines in the wee hours Friday to clear sidewalks at local businesses and other clients, spokesman Eric Foster said.

“We’ve been up since 2 a.m. hitting all the doctor offices and commercial businesses on our list and we’re still going at it,” Foster said at 10:30 a.m. Friday.

Foster tried to look on the bright side of the storm.

“I think we definitely needed it, not just for business, but the mountain needs it, he said.

Your Party and Rental Center also sent out heaters and generators on a “just in case” basis, anticipating the possibility of more snow and ice.

“People are planning ahead,” Foster said.

“If we do get ice, and power lines start going down, we have (equipment and services) and are ready to go,” he said. “With our snowplowing, we’ve had quite a few people who’ve called and said, ‘We know you guys are busy, but can you help?’ Everyone is pretty understanding, even though [the snowfall] came on pretty sudden.”

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For Rivers Edge Towing, “the epicenter” of action was I-84 between Cascade Locks and Wyeth, where owner Jason Shaner and his drivers answered six calls on Thursday.

“It’s been very busy,” Shaner said. “We also had four or five (wrecks) in The Dalles, not so many in Hood River, not a lot of accidents in town.”

The problem is people going too fast “in very slippery conditions,” especially on I-84, Shaner said.

“People actually drive safer once they see snow in heavy amounts,” he said. “When the snow first hits, it’s the black ice, and that’s when it catches them (drivers). They’re not prepared for the black ice; it looks like bare pavement under a thin layer of snow.

“When it starts to thaw, that’s when it gets troublesome,” he said, as drivers build up speed in the sunny patches and then hit shady areas that are still frozen, and trouble happens.

“Slow is the way to stay out of the ditch,” Shaner said.

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In Parkdale, customers “all came in about the same time” shortly after daybreak when the snow started falling, said Gary Dallas, manager of McIsaac’s Store.

“They were definitely hungry,” he said. “We had a run on the staples: meat, eggs, bread. We sold a ton of it yesterday.”

“We also sold a lot of propane, Duraflames (logs), and pellets.

“We’re prepared for more,” Dallas said. “I’m a weather watcher. I used to own the Cascade Locks store, and anytime there was a threat of snow and ice, and the chance they’d shut down the freeway, I’d get in a double order. We’ve got plenty.”

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Anne Service of Hood River Garbage reported Friday that the company was “not running any cardboard or recycle routes today” and that “trash routes are being run, but if they cannot safely access you, we will service all extras next week on your regular service day at no additional charge.”

She added that The Dalles Disposal was not running any routes at all Friday or Saturday in Mosier or The Dalles, but, “again, anyone not serviced will not be charged for their extras on their next regularly scheduled service date.”

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With significant snow, ice and wind hitting all parts of the Northwest, Pacific Power urges residents to remember such things as checking on neighbors, protect pipes during freezing weather by wrapping them with insulation, and to keep generators outside in well-ventilated spaces.

“We work hard to avoid outages, but when bad weather strikes — outages happen, and we work just as hard to get your power back on quickly and safely,” said Doug Butler, vice president of operations. “Based on experience, we’ve anticipated and prepared, and we’re ready to assist customers should major outages occur. Just as our crews are prepared to respond, we ask our customers to be prepared as well so we can work together to keep safety the No. 1 priority.”

If a power outage occurs, Pacific Power encourages customers to first check fuses and circuit breakers. If the power failure is not caused inside the home or business, the customer should report the outage to Pacific Power at 1-877-508-5088.

To ease the inconvenience of power outages and assist crews in restoring power, Pacific Power suggests the following tips and safety precautions:

Stay away from all downed power lines and utility lines. Even if the lines are not sparking, they could be energized and extremely dangerous.

Call and report the outage to Pacific Power at 1-877-508-5088.

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