Even under perfect driving conditions, Oregon Department of Transportation officials would warn drivers to be careful on the busy highways full of holiday travelers.
But add the potentially record-breaking snow storm blanketing Oregon the day before Thanksgiving, and ODOT’s holiday menu includes a second helping of caution.
The National Weather Service office in Pendleton predicts up to 20 inches of snow in the mountain passes around Bend through Thursday morning, passes that holiday travelers would typically use to reach their Thanksgiving dinners.
“It’s the first snowstorm of the season, and we have a lot of people on the road,” said ODOT spokesman Peter Murphy on Tuesday. “Folks need to be aware that conditions are going to be difficult.”
The state transportation department had snow plows and equipment ready on the highways as the snow fell, Murphy said. Staff already put deicer on many of the highways in preparation for the storm, he said.
“We are all stocked up with deicer and have gone to our full winter staff,” Murphy said. “We are as ready as we can be.”
All the snow in the forecast this week is welcome news for area skiers and snowboarders.
Mt. Bachelor is still planning to open Friday, but without skiing or snowboarding. Although that could change with the snowstorm. Mt. Bachelor traditionally opens the day after Thanksgiving.
For now, the ski area will open Friday for Hopening Day, an event from noon to 4 p.m. when visitors can enjoy hiking, family activities, scavenger hunts and photo ops with ski patrol and avalanche dogs.
At Hoodoo Ski Area, there is already 5 inches of snow at the base with another 9 to 18 inches of snow expected to fall through Wednesday. The ski area needs about 3 feet of snow before it can open for the season.
“We aren’t able to determine an opening date yet,” said Leif Williams, vice president of marketing at Hoodoo. “But if we can get up to 30 to 36 inches of snow and get a couple snow cats out there and pack it down, we should be able to make an announcement.”
Hoodoo typically opens on the first or second weekend of December. The ski area usually opens by Thanksgiving only about two to three times per decade.
The weather service issued a winter storm warning from Tuesday afternoon to Wednesday night, when 6 to 9 inches of snow could fall in Bend.
That amount of snow would be a record for Nov. 26 and Nov. 27 in Bend. Weather service data shows the record snowfall for Bend on Nov. 26 was 2 inches in 1960. The record in Bend for Nov. 27 was 3.8 inches in 1970, according to the data.
Dan Slagle, a weather service meteorologist in Pendleton, said the heaviest snowfall in Bend during this week’s storm, about 5 inches, will be overnight Tuesday into Wednesday morning. Wind gusts could reach 26 mph, he said.
The mix of wind and snow could make visibility difficult for travelers, Slagle said.
“It’s not the best time to travel,” he said. “ If you could hold off until Thanksgiving, it will be better by then.”
The forecast shows snow will taper off on Thanksgiving day, and the weather will be mostly clear over the weekend. But snow is in the forecast again Sunday and Monday.
Forecasters are still determining how much snow could fall next week.
“It’s not like the weather system we are seeing now,” Slagle said,
“But it’s a system we are keeping an eye on.”