Winter storms caused more chaos in the United States on Thursday, paralyzing much of Oregon’s largest city with nearly a foot of snow falling, as well as travel from parts of the Pacific coast to the northern plains.
The almost 28 centimeters (11 inches) of snow recorded in Portland became the second snowiest day in the city’s history. The snowfall caught motorists by surprise, clogged traffic during rush hour Wednesday night and stranded large numbers of people on highways.
Some stayed overnight in their vehicles or abandoned them entirely while crews tried to clear the roads. Some passengers got off the buses that skidded and left the roads to go as a group to safe places. The National Weather Service, which had forecast a low chance of significant snowfall, planned to review its work.
Due to bad weather, nearly a million homes and businesses were without power in various states, schools canceled classes and thousands of flights were delayed or cancelled. The storm system even caused snowfall in southern California, a normally warm area.
Kim Upham endured a 13-hour ordeal due to traffic gridlock due to snow on US Highway 26, which connects Portland to the coast. The steep road was covered with a layer of ice and some drivers abandoned their vehicles halfway.
“It was very scary to have cargo trucks behind and in front, and you are going up a hill,” he added.
As the hours lengthened, some drivers began to worry about surviving until morning. Upham used a blanket to keep warm and spent the night in his vehicle. To save gas, he turned off his vehicle and only turned on the windshield wipers intermittently when traffic picked up a bit.
“I don’t want to die at 26,” he added. “I thought about it a lot to be honest.”
The Multnomah County Coroner’s Office said it was investigating a suspected storm-related death from hypothermia. He did not give further details.
With thousands of people living on the streets in Portland, city and county officials said they would open three additional shelters starting Thursday for a total of six. Some 700 people will be able to spend the night in those places.
Some people were out enjoying themselves on their surprise day off in an area that rarely sees measurable snowfall.
Joan Jasper put on her skis and started walking through a residential neighborhood.
“They always have their ‘snowfall’ on the news, and we didn’t know it, but 11 inches later we’re here!” he added.
In southern California, the San Diego weather service office issued its first-ever blizzard watch for the San Bernardino County mountains for the first time ever, and would be in effect early Friday through Saturday afternoon.