Ice accumulates on branches in north Salem on Feb. 12 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

People in the Salem area should prepare for widespread power outages as an ice storm is expected to hit the region Friday evening, potentially downing trees and making roads slick across the mid-Willamette Valley.

Freezing rain is expected Friday night into Saturday morning, the National Weather Service warned, with between one-quarter and three-quarters of an inch of ice likely to accumulate. An ice storm warning is in effect through noon Saturday for Salem, McMinnville, Woodburn, Stayton and Dallas.

Snow and sleet are possible as well, the forecast said.

Lou Torres, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Transportation, said the forecast suggests a storm worse than any he’s seen in the 35 years he’s worked in the Salem area.

“We’ve had some significant ice storms but this one is going to be really bad,” he said.

Officials said the ice can fell branches, knocking out power in already freezing weather.

“That’s a significant amount of weight that’s added to trees and branches to cause them to fall,” said David Bishop, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Portland. He said some areas could see an inch or more of ice accumulate.

Bishop said it’s rare to see such significant ice accumulation forecasted over such a large area of western Oregon. People should plan to stay home unless absolutely necessary.

“I have not seen any vehicle that can drive well on freezing rain,” Torres said. “It’s the most difficult driving conditions that you can find out there - I’d much rather have an inch of snow.”

Salem has tree crews on standby to respond to downed trees and tree limbs. Street crews are treating icy roads with a combination of liquid magnesium chloride as a deicer and sanding rock, said Heather Dimke, management analyst with Salem’s Public Works Department.

“We are prepared to install several portable generators at key, vital street intersections if power outages impact traffic signals.  Public works crews will be working 24 hours per day in 12-hour shifts until the storm is over and roads return to normal,” Dimke said. 

Portland General Electric is already reporting multiple outages in south Salem and east Marion County affecting more than 1,000 customers. Power is expected to be restored late Saturday morning or early Saturday afternoon for most, according to the PGE website.

Elizabeth Lattanner, PGE spokeswoman, said the outages are weather-related, and the longer time needed to restore power reflects the number of outages the utility is seeing across western Oregon.

“There could be some additional time just given the challenges of the storm," she said.

Customers can view outages on PGE’s website and report an outage by calling 503-399-7717. For Salem Electric, call 503-362-3601 or visit the website.

Dimke said Salem residents should prepare with flashlights, batteries and warm blankets in case the power remains out for an extended period. People should not touch downed power lines or attempt to remove them from trees, she said.

Road conditions are available on Oregon TripCheck.

Saphara Harrell contributed reporting.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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