The Mercury News Weekend
Near-record snowfall brings chaos to Portland, other cities
Winter storms sowed more chaos across the U.S. on Thursday, shutting down much of Portland with almost a foot of snow and paralyzing travel from parts of the Pacific Coast all the way to the northern Plains.
The nearly 11 inches that fell in Portland amounted for the second snowiest day in the city's history. It took drivers by surprise, stalling traffic during the Wednesday evening rush hour and trapping motorists on freeways for hours.
Some spent the night in their vehicles or abandoned them altogether as crews struggled to clear roads. Other commuters got off spun-out buses and walked in groups to safety. The National Weather Service, which had predicted only a slim chance of significant snow, planned to review its work.
The weather also knocked out power to almost a million homes and businesses in multiple states, closed schools and grounded or delayed thousands of flights.
The system even brought snow to usually balmy Southern California. The weather service office in San Diego issued its first-ever blizzard warning, covering the mountains of San Bernardino County from early Friday until Saturday afternoon.
San Bernardino County lies east of Los Angeles County, where the first mountain blizzard warning since 1989 was scheduled to take effect at the same time.
In Wyoming, roads across much of the southern part of the state were impassable, state officials said.
Rescuers tried to reach stranded motorists, but high winds and drifting snow created a “near-impossible situation,” said Sgt. Jeremy Beck of the Wyoming Highway Patrol.
High winds and heavy snow in the Cascade Mountains prevented search teams from reaching the bodies of three climbers killed over the weekend in an avalanche on Washington's Colchuck Peak.
Portland residents had expected no more than a dusting to a few inches. The city uses salt on its roads only in extreme situations for environmental reasons, and the chaos Thursday recalled a similar storm in 2017 that left motorists stranded on freeways and shut down the city for days.
The weather service originally predicted a 20% chance that Portland would get more than 2 inches of snow. The probability of getting 6 to 8 inches was 5%.
In Arizona, several interstates and other highways were closed due to high winds, falling temperatures and blowing snow. Forecasters said snow could fall as rapidly as 2 to 3 inches (5 to 8 centimeters) per hour.
Widespread power outages were reported in California, Oregon, Illinois, Michigan and New York, according to the website PowerOutage.us.