Big melt may follow Central Oregon snowfall

Public works wants roads cleared by Monday’s thaw

By Hillary Borrud / The Bulletin

Public works agencies hope to have streets and highways more cleared off by Monday, when warm temperatures will begin to melt the snowfall from one of the biggest storms in the region in the past five years.

Saturday was relatively uneventful for law enforcement, with some fender benders but no major car crashes in Deschutes County. Law enforcement and other government agencies in Central Oregon asked people to stay home if possible on Saturday, to allow public works crews to continue plowing the roads. Snow forced Redmond Airport to close its airfield all day Saturday. The terminal remained open, and airport employees expected the airfield to reopen today.

The cold air that brought snow to Central Oregon was already moving north on Saturday. Roger Cloutier, a senior forecaster with the National Weather Service in Pendleton, said the forecast is for freezing rain today. That could translate into icy roads, although Cloutier said the chance of precipitation is less than in recent days. The weather service expects rain on Monday, as high temperatures in Bend could reach the mid-30s. The forecast calls for temperatures to climb into the 40s Tuesday.

Bend Street Division manager Hardy Hanson said Saturday the city’s goal is to clear all streets by Monday. Then, the challenge will be dealing with the runoff, as the piles of snow along roadways begin to melt.

“Our next concern is, we’ll have a quick warming trend and rain, and then we’ll have a flooding situation,” Hanson said. People should clear snow around storm drains on their streets to allow water to drain, the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office wrote in a news release.

Peter Murphy, a spokesman for the Oregon Department of Transportation, said that highways could become “sloppy” if temperatures warm up as forecast. “Actually, the more we can hope for continued cold, the better off we’ll be, because it will allow us to continue to scoop up snow,” Murphy said.

ODOT brought in a road grader with a special blade from Burns to break up compacted snow on the Bend Parkway over the weekend, and Murphy said employees, including a highway construction employee who happened to have a commercial driver’s license, pitched in to operate snow removal equipment.

Meanwhile, some local ODOT employees were sent to clear snow in Santiam Pass, because the crew that normally handles that area was diverted to Salem.

“We’ve been putting the maximum effort out,” Murphy said.

As temperatures hovered in the teens Friday and Saturday, the snow in Central Oregon was lighter and had a higher snow-to-water ratio than in warmer temperatures. Cloutier said when snow forms at 32 degrees, the ratio is typically 10 inches of snow for every 1 inch of water. At 14 degrees, the low temperature in Bend Friday, Cloutier said the snow-to-water ratio is usually closer to 25 to 1.

“That’s one of the reasons why they got so much, because it was a dry, fluffy, powdery high ratio,” Cloutier said. “The colder it is, the greater the snow-to-water ratio.”

A weather spotter just northwest of Bend reported 19 inches of snow fell over 24 hours from Friday through Saturday afternoon and some of the time “it was snowing at a rate of 1 inch per hour,” Cloutier said.

The snowfall varied widely across Central Oregon. In Crook County, a Powell Butte weather spotter reported 8 inches fell over 24 hours from Friday through Saturday afternoon. It snowed 16 inches in La Pine over the same time period, Sisters received 12 inches and it snowed 22 inches over a 24-hour period in Camp Sherman.

“It’s certainly one of the biggest storms in the last five years,” Cloutier said. “This is really the first big snowstorm for Central Oregon, and it came kind of late in the season.”

Beginning on Friday night, public works employees and contractors worked around the clock to clear streets and had covered most of the city on Saturday.

But as snow continued to fall, the streets that crews recently cleared were covered again by the time workers returned.

Hanson asked that people shovel snow into piles on their property, not into the streets.

“It’s a lot of snow, so I wouldn’t say (the streets are) clear, but they are passable,” Hanson said Saturday. “The problem is with the volumes of snow, we do it, and in three to four hours, we have to do it again.”

Bend volunteer coordinator Cheryl Howard works with a network of people who remove snow from public areas, such as bridges, and shovel sidewalks for people who are elderly or face other challenges and cannot afford to hire contractors.

On Saturday, Howard said the city did not ask volunteers to travel outside their neighborhoods, because it was too difficult to drive.

Instead, volunteers looked for opportunities to help in their own neighborhoods and Howard said that as people cleared driveways and cross-country skied down streets, it became a social day for many neighborhoods.

“Neighbors who have never even talked are just out skiing,” Howard said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7829,