'Unprecedented' snowstorm slams Portland, snarls traffic, closes schools for Wednesday

A tow truck tries to tow a stuck tanker truck on the Interstate 84 westbound ramp to Interstate 84. It also slid in the snow after an unprecedented snowstorm hit Portland Tuesday night. (Photo: Lincoln Graves/KATU News)

A snowstorm that made a sneak attack on Portland Tuesday night once again snarled traffic on major roads and freeways for hours in the region and forced schools across the area to cancel classes for Wednesday.

The biggest school district, Portland Public Schools, announced it has canceled classes and closed its offices for Wednesday. The city of Portland also announced that it would close its offices to the public Wednesday because of the weather. Many area school districts have also announced closures. Check the full list below.

Full School/Organization Closure List

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The Oregon Department of Transportation is requiring traction devices for cars and chains for semi-trucks on all highways in the Portland-Metro area. And the agency has closed Interstate 84 between Troutdale and Hood River because of blizzard conditions.

And at Portland International Airport, more than a dozen flights were diverted to Sea-Tac. Officials in Portland said the airport remained open, but the runways were closed so crews could plow the snow.

A Winter Storm Warning is in effect for Northwest Oregon and Southwest Washington until 1 p.m. Wednesday, the National Weather Service said.

Precipitation from the Pacific is mixing with cold east wind, dropping temperatures to at-or-below freezing level and creating snow showers through early Wednesday afternoon.

KATU Meteorologist Mary Loos predicts anywhere from 2 to 6 inches of snow accumulation in the Portland metro area.

LATEST FORECAST

Loos called it an unprecedented event for Portland.

"I've really not ever seen anything like this. This is more like weather that we would see in the Great Lakes area, western New York and also in parts of the upper Midwest," she said. "It's not something we've seen in Oregon by any means, particularly several storms like this in one winter."

Loos said there was more moisture in the weather system than expected and it came into the region faster than forecast.

She expected the snow to continue falling overnight -- heavy at times -- and continue through mid-afternoon Wednesday.

The Commute Tuesday Night and Wednesday Morning

The overnight snow is expected to cause problems for the morning commute, especially on local highways. Drivers should prepare for winter conditions on the roads, or try to take public transportation if they need to get around town.

The snow on Tuesday night caused significant problems on Interstate 5 northbound as KATU's Kellee Azar tweeted:

Traffic was at a standstill for hours on the freeway. According to ODOT, a truck spun out on a hill and traffic backed up. Someone also had a medical emergency.

And the snow caused problems on Highway 26 late Tuesday night as an ODOT camera captured:

ODOT said Highway 26 in the Sunset area was a mess and had been since about 8:30 p.m. At one point, the agency stopped traffic at the tunnel westbound so its crews could salt the road and sand it.

The agency advised drivers not to abandon their vehicles. Crews may tow them to keep the road clear.

One KATU viewer, Daksh, submitted this video of the mess on southbound Interstate 205.

Earlier in the evening, Mayor Ted Wheeler asked Portlanders to call police if they see someone who might be in danger because of the freezing temperatures. His appeal was a response to having a fourth person die of hypothermia in the city since New year's Day.

NWS forecasters expect gusts up to 40 mph for parts of East Multnomah County into the Columbia River Gorge. Hood River Valley and Gorge residents can expect up to a foot of additional snow.


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