The winter storm that paralyzed many roads in Oregon, including large stretches of Interstate 84, had moved away as of Monday. But not before it made Christmas travel unbearable and, for some, impossible.
The Portland area got hit first and the trouble moved east into the Columbia River Gorge.
“It started with a little bit of snow that quickly transitioned to freezing rain and extremely high winds,” said Oregon Department of Transportation Public Information Officer Kacey Davey. “That’s the reason the Gorge shut down in the first place. We had wind gusts that were about 80 mph around Cascade Locks. We ended up with about one to two inches accumulation of solid ice and some of the crews reported snow drifts up to 10 feet tall in that first closure section of I-84 between Troutdale and Hood River.
Friday night and into Saturday, the closures stretched east of Pendleton and all the way to Baker City.
Davey said there was only so much ODOT could do.
“We don’t have a tool in our toolbox that will fight the amount of ice that was accumulating,” Davey said. “The de-icer we put down, that doesn’t work. That gets washed right away by the freezing rain. Trying to drop snow and cinders, they just blow right away in the wind. We were able to get some salt and cinders down when it finally started to melt it helped to break up break up and provide a little bit of traction on the driving surface,” said Davey.
While those traveling by air struggled all weekend to get where they wanted to go, drivers clearly recognized the danger and stayed away from the Interstate. But Davey said that wasn’t necessarily the case in Central Oregon.
“They didn’t see as good of compliance down here,” said Davey. “One of our plow drivers reported a van that passed him going about 70 on Lava Butte even as our giant plows were struggling for traction. So just a reminder to folks that when we’re out there and we’re working hard and we’ve put the warnings out there, it really means you should take a look and be cautious when you’re on the ice and snow.”