It may be spring, but much of western Oregon is covered in snow

PORTLAND, Ore. - The Willamette Valley was pummeled by an unusually strong early-spring storm that dumped several inches of snow in places. The snow caused highway crashes, dropped trees onto power lines, and closed some highways.

Two vehicles were briefly trapped between landslides that, along with deep snow, shut down traffic on U.S. 20 through the Santiam Pass in the Cascade Range.

"Everybody's fine," said spokesman Lou Torres of the state Department of Transportation. "Our folks are up there with them."

On Highway 35 on Mount Hood, road crews said an "avalanche" dumped about four feet of snow on the road. A state police spokesman said several cars were caught up in the snow, but nobody was hurt.

The Eugene area was the hardest hit.

National Weather Service hydrologist Andy Bryant says it will go down as the largest snowfall there so late in March. He says the forecasters figure 7 to 10 inches will accumulate, more at higher elevations.

Seven inches were on the ground at the Eugene airport late in the morning.

Records show a similar snowfall in Eugene on March 5-7 in 1951. They show a much bigger snowfall, on March 3-4, in 1916. That totaled 13.7 inches.

In only a few years have late-March snowfalls there totaled more than an inch.

"The snow level will remain low tonight, under 500 feet at times around Portland," said KATU Meteorologst Rhonda Shelby. "Some leftover moisture in the could fall as snow down the valley floor tonight. All areas, including Salem and Eugene, could see another dusting."

In Albany, children relished the snow day on Wednesday. Ben Whited, 10, was out playing, but not until he finished chores like brushing snow off his parents' cars.

In Sandy, snow piled up fast overnight, closing schools and slowing down traffic through town.

Unfortunately for some stores, it also slowed business. Employees at the Tollgate Inn on Highway 26 said heavy snow usually means fewer customers.

"You know soup's nice and warm and easy on the tummy. I figure that will get them in here and take a break," Crystal Johnson said.

Bryant said the storm could leave 2 feet of new snow in the Cascade Range. At midday, Timberline Lodge at Mount Hood reported 19 inches. It was their largest daily snowfall so far this year.

Mount Hood Meadows saw 25 inches of powder fall in 24 hours. The rush of late snow has them considering staying open into May.

The additional snow in the Coast and Cascade ranges could also provide a boost for summer water supplies in Oregon.

The snowpack was below average in much of the state during the winter, raising concern about water for irrigation, municipal systems and recreation. producer John Tierney, and KATU reporters Lincoln Graves, Valerie Hurst and Joe Raineri contributed to this report