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Columbia County thawing out from deep freeze

Storm cancels 2 school days, shortens 2 more; transportation impacts across region


by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: JOHN WILLIAM HOWARD - A brother and sister battle it out in the snow in Scappoose Friday, Feb. 7. The pair were on their way home from their weekly trip to the library and stopped to have a bit of fun in the yard of a friend.

The second major winter storm of the season slammed northwest Oregon and southwest Washington late last week and into Monday, causing widespread cancellations and traffic delays in Columbia County and elsewhere.

Schools closed early in the county and nearby school districts Thursday, Feb. 6, as snowfall that began around 9 a.m. thickened and roads became slick. City, county and state offices swiftly followed suit in closing their doors. Even Hudson Garbage, which provides curbside garbage service in the St. Helens area, canceled its pickups for the day.

by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: ROBIN JOHNSON - Emergency vehicles respond to the scene of a wreck on Highway 30 in south Scappoose Thursday, Feb. 6.By Thursday afternoon, a number of crashes had been reported along Highway 30 from Clatskanie to the Multnomah County line. Traffic snarled as motorists tried to get home from work, pick their children up from school and run errands before the winter storm worsened. No injuries were reported from crashes in south Columbia County, according to local fire departments.

Across the Columbia River in Washington, Cowlitz County Sheriff Mark Nelson advised people in the area to stay home and be aware of other drivers if they went out on the roads in an email late Thursday afternoon.

“Trust me, there are plenty of opportunities out there for people to do dumb things while driving in a normal day; I've made a career out of that,” Nelson wrote. “Couple that with hazardous road conditions and it's an ugly situation.”

Friday was quieter than Thursday, as most schools and government offices remained closed throughout the day and fewer crashes in Columbia County were reported. Some drivers' morning commute was complicated, however, by a restriction posted on the Oregon Department of Transportation's TripCheck website – a resource the state promotes as a way for people to inform themselves about road conditions and traffic – requiring vehicles on Highway 30 between Portland and Scappoose to be fitted with chains or traction tires.

At about 10:45 a.m., an ODOT spokesman told the Spotlight no such restriction was actually in effect. He said the alert, which was visible on the TripCheck region map from early in the morning well into the day, may have been the product of a “technical glitch.”

“I don't know what happened,” said Don Hamilton.

Chains or traction tires were required for trucks and vehicles towing between Clatskanie and Rainier, ODOT and the Columbia County Roads Department confirmed. The county also “recommended” chains on county roads.

by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: JOHN WILLIAM HOWARD - Three Scappoose youngsters take advantage of the wintery blast to sled down a hill near Otto Petersen Elementary School on Friday, Feb. 7. South Columbia County was one of the most affected regions in the winter storm, with 8.5 inches of snow reported in Scappoose and 10 inches in St. Helens.A quiet Friday of continued snowfall gave way to a tempestuous Saturday, as freezing rain fell on top of snow in many places.

In Scappoose, JP West Road was closed Saturday afternoon after several vehicles got stuck or wrecked near the intersection with Northwest Eastview Drive, according to Scappoose Fire District spokeswoman Rhonda Melton.

“They closed the road, and several [cars] were in the ditch, some were wrecked together,” Melton said.

Scappoose police said they responded to a crash just before 3 p.m. Officers reportedly found two vehicles wrecked, four more in the ditch and one on the sidewalk. While they investigated the crash scene, police said, two more vehicles coming down the hill crashed as well.

No injuries were reported, police and fire personnel said. However, the road remained closed from Scappoose Veterans Park westward until late Monday, as did a section of nearby Dutch Canyon Road.

The winter storm was also blamed for a small fire at the St. Helens Marina Saturday. According to Jay Tappan, chief of Columbia River Fire & Rescue, a power cord on the shore shorted out and caused a fire. There was no damage to the boat, he said.

In Portland and its suburbs, the ice accumulation forced TriMet to place buses on chains and shut down its MAX light rail system Saturday evening. The city of Portland urged residents to stay home as roads and sidewalks became nearly impassable under layers of snow and ice.

Columbia County Emergency Management expressed the same caution.

“If you don't have to drive, please don't,” advised a post on its Facebook page Saturday. Another one added, “Travel is strongly discouraged.”

The region began to thaw out Sunday, although temperatures remained close to freezing in Columbia County and throughout most of the Portland metropolitan area.

Schools remained closed Monday, as did state agencies in Columbia County, but there were some signs of recovery as county offices and the Columbia County Circuit Court opened late Monday morning. All Columbia County school districts resumed classes Tuesday on a two-hour delayed start, putting an end to students' four-day weekend.

Hudson Garbage and Waste Management both canceled their curbside service Monday. The former company promised to pick up Monday's waste on Tuesday and catch up on Tuesday's service on Wednesday, while the latter said it would pick up twice the normal allowed amount of garbage, recycling and yard debris on customers' next regular service day.

The National Weather Service estimated about 8.5 inches of snow and ice fell in Scappoose from Thursday through Sunday, with accumulations of 10 inches in St. Helens and Columbia City. Overall, totals were higher in south Columbia County than they were in many nearby areas, with Portland receiving up to 8 inches in places and the Longview, Wash., area seeing about 6 inches.