Cold Enough For You? Arctic Weather Bites The Northwest

Dec 9, 2013

Icicle weather in the Rogue Valley
Credit Geoffrey Riley/JPR

Winter is getting off to a brisk start in the normally-mild Pacific Northwest. Overnight temperatures have broken sub-zero records in some areas.  

Apparently, we can blame Canada.

Matthew Cohen is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Portland.

Matthew Cohen: The cold air from the arctic was kind of funneled down. And most of it was along the east of the Cascades but then it was such a strong front that a lot was able to come over on the west side of the Cascades  as well and give us the very cold air.

Cohen says Eugene was a particularly cold spot, with an overnight low of minus 10 on Sunday.

Matthew Cohen: We saw several daily minimum temperature records fall over the last week, including two of the three coldest nights on record, which dates back all the way to 1890 for the Eugene airport.

The cold, combined with the more than six inches of snow that dumped on the region starting Friday afternoon, created the Commute From Hell. In Roseburg, Oregon State Police Lt. Doug Ladd says there were lots of accidents, but few serious injuries. Now, he says, Interstate 5 is mostly clear, but some sections are still a little dicey.

Doug Ladd: We’ve been working with ODOT (Oregon Department of Transportation) this weekend, over the past few days, in identifying some of those spots that continue to be troublesome -- typically they’re in shadowy areas where there isn’t any sunshine – to get some de-icer on there and get some of those things cleared out. (:15)

The secondary roads are another story, with many still covered with ice. Lt. Ladd says a lot of problems could be avoided if people would just make sure they and their vehicles are prepared for severe weather before they head out. He says you’ve be amazed how many folks drive into winter storms wearing shorts and sandals … In a region that rarely sees deep freezes, many homes aren’t as well prepared as they ought to be, either. Rory White, with The Art of Plumbing in Medford, says he’s been running nonstop for days.

Rory White: Oh, Saturday morning, the phone calls started flowing in.

White and the other plumber in his company have been putting in long hours repairing frozen water pipes. He says he’s never seen anything like  it.

Rory White: I used to get a few calls a year but this year it’s been by far the busiest for frozen pipes that I’ve ever seen and I’ve been doing this for 16 years.

The cold snap has been hard on agriculture, too. Farmers east of the mountains are worried the severe low temperatures, combined with gusty winds, could stunt their winter wheat crop. Growers fear the harsh cold may take a toll on Northwest vineyards, as well, as frozen vines may need to be pruned back, losing several years of growth. In the Klamath Basin, temperatures dropping to the minus teens are keeping cattle ranchers and dairy farmers busy. Dr. Terri Bloomfield is a large animal veterinarian in Klamath Falls. She says the deep freeze poses challenges.

Terri Bloomfield: The animals require more feed, because they’re trying to generate heat, stay warm. Water is a big issue, it gets to be quite a challenge for ranchers to keep their water troughs and water supplies open and flowing.

Bloomfield says protecting livestock from the cold also could mean making sure they have windbreaks or some other sort of protection from extreme temperatures. Still, she says, hard weather is just part of ranching.

Terri Bloomfield: You know, it’s cold but we see this every once in a while. Most winters have a few days where we’re below zero and everybody just gets it dealt with.

Is such a big freeze a harbinger of an especially hard winter in the Pacific Northwest? The National Weather Service’s Matthew Cohen says the outlook is uncertain.

Matthew Cohen: There’s really not a strong sense from the longer term signals as to what to expect for the rest of the wintertime. But certainly folks should be prepared for it, it’s certainly possible there could be another significant storm that impacts them.  

The National Weather Service says temperatures will warm up over the next few days, but it’ll likely be Thursday before we finally leave the deep freeze behind, at least for now.