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Snowmageddon!

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Area's fourth winter storm in a month was worst since 2008

BARBARA SHERMAN - With majestic Mount Hood in the background, the Highlands also was covered with snow on Jan. 12, which was pretty but also created problems.Power companies and road crews scrambled after the Jan. 10-11 larger-than-anticipated snowstorm that left as much as a foot of snow on the ground across the metro area overnight.

All area school districts were closed for the rest of the week along with city halls, libraries and other public facilities, and many schools remained closed or opened two hours late into the next week.

The blast of wintry weather, which covered the Westside overnight after starting during the evening of Jan. 10, came just days after a smaller system brought light snow and freezing rain to the area. It was the fourth major winter storm to lash the region in a month, after an ice storm on Dec. 9 and a snowstorm on Dec. 14 that both affected evening commutes.

But the early January snowstorm brought the largest snow totals of the decade to the Portland area, according to the National Weather Service's Portland forecast office — Tuesday being the snowiest calendar day, it tweeted, since Dec. 20, 2008.

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 on Jan. 10.

Initial forecasts for the snowstorm had between 1 and 4 inches falling. The NWS admitted on Twitter 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 heavy snowfall also caused major traffic problems. Portland news stations KATU-TV and FOX 12 Oregon reported that some motorists were stranded overnight, stuck in parking lots or even on freeways like Interstate 5, due to impassable road conditions and intractable traffic jams.

Oregon State Police and the Beaverton Police Department were among agencies warning people against travel Wednesday morning. Chains were required on vehicles throughout the Portland area.

BARBARA SHERMAN - Summerfield resident Ken Toops needed some help from passersby after his golf cart got stuck in snow ruts; they managed to get it turned around and back in his garage.
TriMet continued to operate, but dozens of bus lines were canceled and the WES commuter rail service was disrupted due to a downed tree on the tracks, which was quickly cleared.

Portland General Electric also reported about 37,000 customers without power as of 6:30 a.m. Jan. 11.

Snowplows were pulled into service and remained in serviced for days after the storm. But downed trees and lines colluded with the deep snow to badly snarl traffic on major highways and freeways, and hundreds of cars were abandoned on roads and freeways across the region.

Local residents dusted off their snow shovels and got to work clearing their driveways and sidewalks on Jan. 12, the day after the storm ended.

In King City, there were no serious injuries or fatalities as a result of the weather, and police officers were even willing to pick up food or medication for residents stranded at home, a service unlikely offered anywhere else in the metro area.

Police Chief Chuck Fessler reported that during the period of Jan. 11 to 16, the police department experienced fewer calls for service and self-initiated activities than normal, with a normal average of 72 incidents over six days.

"The total for the period was 40 calls for service and self-initiated activities," Fessler said. "This total only reflects the calls KCPD responded. The breakdown of the most frequent calls were: citizen assist - eight; suspicious vehicles - six; traffic accidents – four; welfare checks – three; and response to a hazard - three.

"During the event we were able to staff our shifts, though getting officers here was stressful task completed by members of the department and the city manager. Due to the weather conditions we were unable to use our regular patrol vehicles. Instead officers used our emergency Tahoe that is four-wheel drive and outfitted with studded snow tires.

BARBARA SHERMAN - Safeway courtesy clerk Andy Gardner stops shoveling snow to help a customer get her shopping cart across a rough patch of snow."From contact by residents, the greatest concern was the inability to drive on city streets due to the snow and ice conditions. However, concerned citizens were informed that if they had an emergency need, such as food or medicine, and were unable to drive, the department would provide transportation and/or assistance."

Fessler said that his officers commented that "a common observation was that many people don't know how to drive in snow and ice and as a result, they put themselves in harm's way. An example would be driving too fast for the road conditions… The best thing during the event is that we experienced no serious injuries or deaths attributed to the weather."

City Manager Mike Weston added on Jan. 17 that "unfortunately at this time, the city, as with many of the other communities, is ill-equipped to deal with accumulated snow fall. Most everything within the city and services provided by the city were shut down.

"Some roads were impassible to vehicles with non-traction tires. Most main streets within the city were navigable, but ice and snow has persisted for nearly a week now. Our main concern going forward in flooding associated with melt and heavy rains. Roads will likely be very treacherous until completely melted.

"Otherwise, we had a couple trees lose a limb or two, a couple water leaks were reported, and we had someone taking some liberties with a four-wheeler on the golf course. Other than that, it has remained fairly quite throughout this wintery spell."

One victim of the snow storm was a tall fir tree behind the King City Safeway, which fell across the road behind the store and ended up leaning against the top of the building. Although the tree apparently didn't cause any damage, it blocked the road that the big delivery trucks use.

BARBARA SHERMAN - On Jan. 12 King City resident Bryan Rygh uses a broom to get the snow off his truck that had been parked on the street since the snowstorm started Jan. 10.In Summerfield, Gerald Miller, who has lived there since December 1999, said, "We are having a 100-year-snowstorm every 40 years. I was born and raised in Wisconsin, and I never bought chains while I lived there. I drove around in one foot of snow."

Another Summerfield resident, Ken Toops, found himself in a bit of trouble when he tried to use his golf cart to drive to JB O'Brien's restaurant and got stuck in the snow ruts in front of his house.

Luckily, right as he got stuck, a man was driving by with two girls on his way to visit his aunt and uncle and stopped to help. "Come on, girls!" he called, and while he told Toops which direction to steer, they pushed and managed to get the golf back into the garage.

Over in King City, Bryan Rygh was brushing the snow off his pickup, saying it had been parked in front of his house since before the snow started falling.

And nearby, Cherie and Bev were walking their new rescue dog Lola, who had recently come from a shelter in Southern California. While Lola had a coat on, she was probably finding the Pacific Northwest pretty frigid after the balmy temperatures in the south.

Mark Miller and Barbara Sherman contributed to this story.