Why Is Snow A Bigger Problem Here In The Willamette Valley?

snow storm
South Hills Of Eugene Snowstorm 12.6.2012 | Photo by Tim Chuey

I know I have said this before and I’ll say it again. I love snow, but I want it to stay in the mountains where it belongs. It doesn’t have come and visit me at my home. I grew up in Rochester, New York which is known for it’s winter snow storms.

Shoveling Snow
Shoveling Snow- Blizzard Of 1966- Rochester, NY | Photo by White Pear Store

The worst storm I experienced in Rochester was back in 1966. The snow piled up over four feet deep. The city streets, which were usually quickly cleared of snow by the snow plow crews, stayed clogged with the white stuff for a minimum of two days. Outlying areas took much longer for cars to be able to use the roads.

Snow Shovelers Needed At Lambeau Field | Photo by channel13000.com

I also lived in Eau Claire, Wisconsin where the elevation is listed as 787 feet and snow was and still is in abundance. In my four years there I probably shoveled as much snow as I did in eight years in Rochester, New York. Just this past weekend the Green Bay Packers asked for 35o volunteers to show up Sunday morning January 12th to shovel the deep snow in Lambeau Field for the playoff game between the Packers and the Seahawks. The shovels would be provided and the volunteers would be paid 12 dollars an hour for their labor.

snow storm
South Hills Of Eugene Snowstorm 12.6.12 | Photo by Tim Chuey

When people like myself move from snow country to the Willamette Valley they wonder what all the fuss is over the possibility of an inch or two of snow piling upon the ground. When you are used to many inches and even feet of snow all winter long it seems silly to worry about such a small amount of the white stuff. What they don’t take into consideration is one very important factor and that is elevation. Back East, particularly, the lay of the land is mostly low rolling hills. Driving in snow there can be difficult and even dangerous, but there are few serious hills to deal climb.Here in the Willamette Valley that is truly not the case. The Coburg Hills rise 1,283 feet above sea level and in the South Hills of Eugene Blanton Heights reaches to about 1,360 feet. In Rochester, New York the elevation is listed as 505 feet. In the area where I last lived there one of the streets is called Ridge Road. For that specific part of town the road is on a bit of a ridge, but only at an elevation of 368 feet.

The hills here in Eugene certainly are not rolling and most can get quite steep. That is the main cause of concern for winter driving. Even a small amount of snow, let’s say one inch, can be very dangerous. The snow is slippery enough on the hills, but if the sun comes out and melts the snow or the friction of tires on the road melt it then ice can form as the temperatures cool at night and early in the morning. Bridges and overpasses cool faster that the roads and therefore can also freeze over before the average road surface.

Snowfall Blanton Heights KVAL Parking Lot 1.7.08 | Photo by Tim Chuey

After driving up and down Blanton Heights twice a day five days a week for 17 years I can attest to the fact that you are taking your life into your hands when you travel these hills in treacherous winter conditions. Particularly when icy it’s white-knuckle time driving up, but particularly down, these hills. The hills may be alive with the sound of music, but in winter the sounds are too often screech (the brakes), swoosh (sliding tires), and crunch (hitting another object).

The best advice I can give is to know your driving limitations and the condition of the roads before you venture out for the rest of this winter. Drive carefully out there. Do everything in slow motion. Don’t accelerate or break quickly. Don’t turn your steering wheel from side to side quickly, and remember to turn into a skid.

Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can comment below or email me at: [email protected].

Tim Chuey is a Member of the American Meteorological Society and the National Weather Association and has been Awarded Seals of Approval for television weathercasting from both organizations.

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