Rain, rain go away
Shawn Nerison has 80 semi-trucks to load with trees, but frozen ground, rain and sinkholes have put him three weeks behind schedule.
Nolan Calvin has stacks of ruined wheels out behind his auto shop on Southeast Stark Street.
Just a few blocks away, Dennis Mesford has had to hire extra help to deal with a deluge in calls to rescue homes, businesses and schools damaged by water.
It's wet. It's cold. It's getting old.
But just how bad has it been?
It's been so bad that the Oregon Trail School District, which stretches from the ski slopes of Mount Hood to the nursery fields of Boring, has had to cancel classes 15 times this year — three times the usual. It even closed Monday — yes, March 6! — because of snow.
Gresham gets 47 inches of rain in an average 12-month October-through-September "water year." As of Thursday it had received 41.76 in a little over five months.
That five-month total is as much or more than the city got in 10 of the last 18 complete water years, according to data from the U.S. Geological Survey. Official rain gauges at Pleasant Valley Elementary School along Southeast Foster Road and Cottrell School out in Boring are similarly overflowing.
All that is 50 percent more than normal — and not easing up anytime soon.
Rain is forecast for much of the next two weeks; long-range forecasts call for an abnormally wet spring and not really drying out until July.
The National Weather Service and other forecasters say it's all because of a low-pressure system that has parked itself off the West Coast and a persistent jet stream that's been steadily directing its storms to Oregon, Washington and northern California.
"I think everyone is ready for a little change," said Elizabeth Coffey, spokeswoman for the city of Gresham, whose workers have racked up 2,500 hours of overtime battling a winter of snow and ice, downed trees and streets full of potholes.
Hurting and helping
While there certainly are benefits to plentiful winter rains, too much causes problems.
That's been the case at Surface Nursery on Southeast Lusted Road, where Nerison is the vice president.
"First, we couldn't get out into the field because of frozen ground in January, and then when it thawed and the rains came, everything turned to mush," said Nerison, who employs 50 workers. "Now our customers are calling and asking 'Where's our order?'"
To make matters worse, a torrent of water Feb. 1 created a massive sinkhole under Lusted Road just west of Surface's main office, closing the road and creating a long detour for employees and truckers. Multnomah County says it probably can't be fixed until summer and could cost $400,000.
Dennis Mesford has owned the Gresham franchise of ServPro, a water and fire cleanup and restoration company, for 25 years. This winter has been their busiest; so busy that he's had to hire extra people to help handle the work.
In January, the company was inundated with frozen pipe calls. In February, it was sewer backups when drains couldn't handle heavy rains. And now homeowners are discovering water damage in their roofs and walls.
"It's been a long winter," Mesford said.
It's been similarly busy for Nolan Calvin, who has been in the tire business for 42 years, the last 34 at Nolan's Point S Tire & Auto Service on Southeast Stark Street.
His crews are repairing or replacing wheels and tires damaged by potholes that have sprung up in every road.
"It's definitely as bad as I've ever seen it," Calvin said.
But Calvin isn't just pointing the finger at potholes. Popular low-profile tires — even new cars come with them now — just aren't made for high-speed impacts when they hit pothole after pothole.
"Yes, the potholes are bigger and deeper," he said. "But these low-profile tires on high-performance cars just aren't made to hit holes in the road."
On roads and potholes
There isn't a local road that hasn't been affected by the long, hard freeze in January and the deluges of February. Potholes are created when water gets under the road's surface and traffic breaks up the asphalt. But more and bigger potholes appear when that water repeatedly freezes and thaws.
"Anyone driving notices the potholes are big, and they're everywhere," said Mike Pullen, a spokesman for Multnomah County's road department. The department is responsible for nearly 300 miles of roads, much of those in East Multnomah County.
The problem now is that pothole repairs are best made when the weather is dry. That's an issue when it rains for days on end.
Gresham has received 148 pothole complaints this winter via its MyGresham website, but Coffey admits "that's just the tip of the iceberg." Gresham usually has one 6-person pothole crew, but has added another. They're responding to public complaints if the pothole seems dangerous, said Coffey, but are trying to focus on main thoroughfares before moving into neighborhoods.
Some older streets that appear to be the most damaged, like Southeast Powell Boulevard, will likely be moved to the top of the city's summer paving list, she said.
"This winter has been so unusual," said Coffey. "We'll be happy to see spring."
A Feb. 5 sinkhole that closed Northeast Pipeline Road between Southeast Altman and 302nd Avenue could cost Multnomah County $400,000 to fix.
The Gresham Barlow and Reynolds school districts have each closed 10 days because of snow or ice this winter. Usually they close 1-3 days a year.
The city of Gresham has used 60 tons of asphalt repairing potholes.
A gauge in the upper Clackamas River basin shows 60.5 inches of rain since October, almost 13 inches above average.
Oddly enough, the gauge at the Troutdale Airport gets less rain than other local sites. From October through February it measured 31.57 inches of rain, about 2 inches more than average, but 9 inches less than Gresham.
In Portland, January was the coldest month in 32 years and the seventh-coldest month in recorded history, averaging 33.5 degrees.
The yearly emergency overtime budget for Multnomah County's road department is $48,000. Last month it was already at $103,000.
Every federal snow measurement site across Oregon shows an above-average snowpack. The statewide average is 138 percent of normal; it's 149 percent in the Willamette basin and 128 percent in the Sandy River basin.
There is 16 feet of snow at Timberline Lodge, including three feet in the last three days.