Oregon Still Facing Freezing Temperatures, Threat of Ice Today

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The January winter storm may be saving its worst for last with a bout of gnarly freezing rain forecast to bring further grief Tuesday to roads just about everywhere.

It means we all should spend one more day waiting it out, staying off the roads and letting the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) crews do battle with the ice, the most dangerous of all forms of winter precipitation. We will bring all of our winter tools into the struggle – the salt, the deicer, the sand and the plows.

But the forecast holds good news as well, calling for temperatures rising into the 40s on Wednesday with the possibility of nature itself melting the winter snow and ice.

Crews continue working around the clock to keep highways open and reopen those closed by ice and downed trees and power lines across Oregon. With unusually cold temperatures and another round of freezing rain expected Tuesday, travel will continue to be challenging.

If you must travel, carry chains – even if you have traction tires or four-wheel-drive – plenty of fuel, snacks and blankets in case of delays. Some highways have reached the point where chains are required regardless of four-wheel-drive.

On Sunday night, vehicles spinning out, crashing or losing traction on northbound I-5 in south Lane County blocked the interstate for hours. ODOT crews and Oregon State Police needed to awaken drivers sleeping in their cars between midnight and 3 a.m. Monday, and there were off-ramp backups of vehicles heading for fuel stations.

Northbound I-5 may continue to be backed up for several miles from south of Cottage Grove to Eugene. Although the interstate is open, the delay is so long and the forecast so severe, ODOT urges travelers to delay their trips. Crews have applied more deicer and salt, and made more passes in this section of I-5 with plows than they have in a decade or more. These tools are limited in severe weather.

A major factor in the I-5 slowdown is vehicles not chaining up or stopping to chain up in the travel lanes. Law enforcement has begun to cite violators of the chain law. Alternate routes are not viable because they are less maintained in winter weather and also impacted by this ice storm.

If you cannot reschedule your trip for later this week, bring chains and be prepared to put them on your vehicle. And be prepared for hours of delay due to severe packed ice and traffic coming to a standstill for long periods. Also, be aware that towns south of Eugene may have power failures and fuel stations could run out of fuel – or even places to park.

Statewide, crews are plowing 24/7 and using deicer by the hundreds of thousands of pounds, as well as sanding packed ice and snow on the roads. However, the amount of ice and extremely low temperatures limit the effectiveness of these tools – especially for vehicles without chains.

ODOT crews are also seeing some commercial vehicles traveling at or near 55 mph in icy conditions, which is a dangerous violation of Oregon’s basic rule to drive according to conditions. Crews also are seeing vehicles chain up in the travel lanes.

Across Oregon:

  • In the Portland area, we will continue to clear roads, but ice remains a threat especially in shady areas. Driving conditions will remain hazardous and motorists should stay off the roads if at all possible.
  • The Columbia River Gorge is expecting dangerous travel conditions Monday and Tuesday caused by sleet, snow and ice on Interstate 84. Ice accumulations may bring down trees and power lines. ODOT will monitor I-84 carefully and will close the interstate if conditions become unsafe.
  • OR 126W remains closed between Mapleton and Veneta due to hundreds of downed trees. There is no estimate of when the highway can reopen. OR 126E is also delayed in Springfield at milepost 7.5 due to downed power lines.
  • U.S. 20 is closed east of Sweet Home between mileposts 32 and 72 due to downed trees. There is no estimate of when the highway can reopen.
  • OR 230 has reopened between Diamond Lake Junction Union Creek. Be prepared for delays and chain restrictions.
  • In eastern Oregon, all state roads were open and clear. ODOT crews continued to monitor the roads and treat them as needed but no roads were closed Tuesday.

For the latest state highway information and to see current closures, visit Tripcheck.com. For the latest weather, visit the National Weather Service website.

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