Central Oregon Daily▶️ Icy Central Oregon roads lead to school closures, delays; warm-up coming

▶️ Icy Central Oregon roads lead to school closures, delays; warm-up coming

▶️ Icy Central Oregon roads lead to school closures, delays; warm-up coming

Icy slushy road

Residents of the Pacific Northwest were urged to avoid travel Wednesday as an ice storm threatened to topple towering trees onto power lines and turn mountain highways treacherous. Every Central Oregon school district was closed or delayed Wednesday as a result of the icy conditions.

Swaths of the region were under warnings early Wednesday for as much as an inch of ice, promising only to add to the damage wrought by a powerful storm that hit over the weekend and was blamed for at least seven deaths. By midmorning, the warning area was reduced to parts of southwest Washington and northwest Oregon, including Portland.

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Schools and government buildings closed as authorities warned of icy roads and the chance of new power outages, even as crews struggled to restore electricity to thousands blacked out for days.

The Bend-La Pine and Jefferson County school districts closed for the day. Bend-La Pine already has early release on Wednesday, so a two-hour delay would have meant kids would have been at school for a little over two hours before being sent home again.

Crook County, Culver, Redmond and Sisters school districts opted for a two-hour delay. Other individual schools closed or reported delays.

The City of Bend said sanding trucks had been out since 10:00 p.m. Tuesday and would continue combing the streets throughout the day, but warned that freezing rain was expected to continue.

A Winter Weather advisory was in effect for Central Oregon through 10:00 p.m. Wednesday. Central Oregon Daily’s Emily Kirk said high temperatures for many in the region will peak in the 30s & 40s Wednedsay, which is when we’ll see snow begin to thaw.

The Oregon Department of Transportation reported multiple highway closures due to icy conditions and downed trees. You can see the updated alerts here.

Power was being restored in the Portland area, but some 36,000 homes and businesses in Lane County — home to Eugene, one of the state’s largest cities — lacked electricity Wednesday morning, according to PowerOutage.us. Some 75,000 customers in total lost power across the state.

The forecast came as much of the United States coped with bitter weather that in some places put electricity supplies at risk.

Freezing temperatures spread as far south as North Florida on Wednesday morning, said Bob Oravec, a National Weather Service forecaster. It was 12 degrees (minus 11.1 Celsius) early Wednesday in Atlanta, where thousands of students returned to school after icy weather Tuesday.

It was 5 degrees in Chicago (minus 15 Celsius) and 6 degrees (minus 14.4 Celsius) in Detroit — significantly colder than Alaska’s capital of Juneau, where it was 18 degrees (minus 7.8 Celsius). Some Midwesterners managed to find a bright side.

“It’s probably the most beautiful time in Chicago, ever,” Richard Wineberg said as he admired the snow-covered landscape.

New York and Philadelphia ended a drought of sorts, with snow falling in both cities. Five people were struck and killed by a tractor-trailer on Interstate 81 in northeastern Pennsylvania after they left their vehicles following a separate crash on slick pavement. Investigators were still determining the exact cause.

Heavy lake-effect snow was forecast in Buffalo, New York, with up to 4 inches (10 centimeters) an hour expected through the afternoon. City hall was closed, school districts declared snow days, and travel bans were issued for several suburbs. The winter blast comes days after a storm that delayed an NFL playoff game for a day.

Just after sunrise Wednesday, Patrick Sahr shoveled snow from his car and driveway in Buffalo after at least 18 inches (45.7 centimeters) of snow fell overnight — on top of 3 feet (1 meter) over the weekend.

“I just want to keep up with it,” he said during a lull.

On the Crow Creek Sioux Reservation near Fort Thompson, South Dakota, about three dozen people stayed in a shelter and the tribe paid to put up about 40 families in a motel. The tribe also provided propane and wood for home heating, and plastic to cover drafty windows, for what tribal Chairman Peter Lengkeek called “substandard government homes.”

It’s expensive, but “you can’t put a price on life and suffering,” Lengkeek said.

The Tennessee Valley Authority, which provides electricity to seven Southern states, reported a preliminary all-time record for peak power demand Wednesday morning as the region dropped to an average of 4 degrees (minus 15.5 Celsius), leading to new calls for customers to cut back.

The power grid operator in Texas also pleaded with customers to limit power use. Over 90,000 customers lost power Wednesday at one point across a swath of the South, though the number fell to about 13,000 in Texas later in the day, according to PowerOutage.us.

In Oregon, officials closed 47 miles (76 kilometers) of Interstate 84, a major east-west highway, because of the threat of ice.

The National Weather Service warned of heavy snow in the Cascade Mountains with winds gusting to 50 mph (80 kph), freezing rain and ice that could make travel “very difficult to impossible.” A storm warning was up through Thursday afternoon.

The Pacific Northwest is more known for rain and was not set to experience such arctic temperatures, but the heavily forested region is especially prone to the danger of falling trees and power lines, particularly during freezing rain, or ice, storms.

Freezing rain falls as water but freezes when it hits roads and other cold surfaces. It can weigh down trees and power lines, making them heavier and likelier to snap, especially in strong winds.

“We’re lucky to be alive,” said Justin Brooks, as he used a chain saw Tuesday to cut up two massive trees that narrowly missed his home in Lake Oswego, Oregon, on Saturday.

Elsewhere in Lake Oswego, arborist Ryan Cafferky scaled a tree to cut it down. The city had deemed the 120-year-old tree at risk of falling, he said.

Frigid air and strong winds were blamed for at least seven deaths in the Pacific Northwest, including a man whose Lake Oswego house was struck by a tree and a woman who died when a tree crushed a recreational vehicle in Portland, trapping her and causing a fire, authorities said. Five people in Oregon were believed to have died of hypothermia, authorities said.

Warmer air was expected to provide some relief Wednesday.

However, the icy morning forecast led Portland Public Schools, the state’s largest district, to cancel classes for a second day, citing concerns about power, burst pipes, and unsafe walkways and parking lots. Courts, libraries and parks were also closed in Portland and other parts of Multnomah County.

County officials extended a state of emergency until noon Wednesday and decided to keep a record 12 overnight weather shelters open for an additional night. Officials called for volunteers, citing the high demand for shelters in an area where thousands of people live outside.

“The real limitation for us right now is staffing,” said Dan Field, director of the county-city homelessness office. “We have to have enough people to keep the doors open of the emergency shelters.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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