Kids play in the snow at Aldrich Park in Salem on Feb. 5, 2019 (Caleb Wolf/Special to Salem Reporter)
NOTE: Salem Reporter will update weather information and other essential details through the weekend.
Up and down the Willamette Valley, governments, schools and transportation agencies are bracing for three storms expecting to inundate the area with snow.
Each storm is expected to bring significant snow accumulation and poor road conditions, impacting commutes. The largest storm is expected to hit Sunday night and go through Monday morning, dropping 2 to 6 inches on the valley floor. The series of storms could cause snow drifts and whiteouts in some places.
Jon Bonk, meteorologist for the National Weather Service, briefed Oregon Department of Transportation officials as well as law enforcement and city representatives from throughout the valley on a conference call Friday morning.
“I really want to give you a heads up on this one,” he told officials.
Friday’s evening commute shouldn’t be impacted by the weather. He said snow should start moving west from the Columbia River Gorge to metro areas Friday night at about 7 p.m. The storm should be as far west as Hillsboro and Wilsonville by about midnight, he said.
“You’re going to wake up to snow on the ground tomorrow,” Bonk said. “Again, very high confidence at this point.”
Snow should taper off by 10 a.m. Saturday, Bonk said, though an additional half-inch or so could fall throughout the day. In total, the storm is projected to bring 1 to 2 inches to the Salem area and 4 to 6 inches to the Portland area.
Weekend traffic will be impacted. During the call, an event organizer asked Bonk if he should cancel a Sunday event in Portland. Bonk said historically such storms have heavily impacted roads.
Come Sunday, a larger storm is forecast to hit and bring 2 to 6 more inches through Monday morning. Bonk said temperatures will stay low through the weekend. Bonk said the north end of the valley will see greater accumulation and that any place above 1,000 feet could get “walloped.”
The coastal passes could get as much as 8 inches, while the Cascades and its foothills are looking at 1 to 2 feet of snow.
A third storm could hit Monday night but Bonk old told officials that is far less certain. He said it could last through Tuesday morning and should carry more moisture than the first two.
The Capitol could close Monday despite an ongoing legislative session, according to David Hartsfield, facilities trade supervisor. He said if staff can’t remove enough snow in the early morning to open, the building would remain closed.
Legislators and others working in the Capitol can call 503-986-1178 Monday to reach a recorded message saying whether the building is open.
Three warming centers for people without shelter will open Friday night at First Presbyterian Church, Church at the Park and South Salem Friends Church. Volunteers are still needed for the rest of the weekend to staff the warming centers.
Anyone wishing to volunteer can contact KayLynn Gesner at Kaylynn.firstname.lastname@example.org or follow the ARCHES Facebook page.
Marion and Polk counties both have staff, plows, sand and deicing chemicals at the ready. Both counties have at least 10 plows and plan to hit and clear main arterials.
Todd Whiteaker, Polk County public works director, said storm preparation is “business-as-usual,” but that could change.
“Each time they update (the forecast) it seems like it’s getting worse,” he said.
Likewise, Salem has nine plows ready to clear major roads throughout the city. Public works officials say they would prioritize those most affected by snowfall and those most used for commuting.
All of Cherriots’ buses will be available, but may be on modified routes, spokeswoman Patricia Feeny said. She said if weather makes traversing hills or curves difficult then some routes are changed, as often the case for routes in West and South Salem.
“Let’s say you could get to West Salem but couldn’t get up a particular hill, you might divert riders to another stop,” Feeny said. Transit alerts are available on Cherriots.org, or people can call 503-588-2877 for updates.
Several events scheduled for the weekend already have been cancelled. High school swimming, basketball and wrestling competitions for Salem-Keizer students in Bend have been cancelled in anticipation of snow causing unsafe travel conditions over the mountains, district spokeswoman Lillian Govus said.
As of Friday afternoon, a scheduled jazz festival Saturday at West Salem High School will go on as planned, but Govus said that could change. The district also has several dozen teachers scheduled for training Saturday, and student athletes traveling to Corvallis, Govus said.
“We did everything on one Saturday and it’s tomorrow,” she said.
At Chemeketa Community College, weekend classes and events may be cancelled due to snow, spokeswoman Nancy Duncan said. Any closures would be announced on social media.
Salem-Keizer will announce any school closure or delay by 5:15 a.m. Monday based on road conditions. If there’s a large amount of snow or ice on the roads Sunday night, it’s possible the call could be made then to give families and staff more time to plan, Govus said.
The city of Salem doesn’t anticipate any changing the anticipated Salem City Council meeting scheduled for Monday night. Councilors will discuss the fate of the Salem River Crossing.
“We will make adjustments and give public notice if the situation dictates,” city spokesman Kenny Larson said in an email.
Larson added that people who hoped to attend but decided against going outdoors could still watch the meeting on channel 21, on the city’s Facebook page or the Capitol Community Television’s YouTube Channel.
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