UMATILLA COUNTY — There are signs when you know you’ve had enough winter experience to “cope.”
Been there, done that? How about going on two weeks of very cold temperatures with only a few choices in your frozen precipitation?
“One of the more unique situations we’re dealing with is a lot of frozen pipes,” Pendleton City Manager Robb Corbett. “Because it’s colder than usual, some water meters can get frozen and people won’t have water in their house.”
Corbett said a city crew will go to the house to check whether, indeed, the water meter is frozen up.
“We insulate our water meters to minimize that from happening,” he said.
With overnight temperatures hovering around zero, the cold could be likely victor in a throw down against the hapless water meter.
“We’re getting a lot of calls about broken water pipes,” Corbett said. “All over town things are freezing up just because we’re not accustomed to these dramatic drops in temperature.”
Pendleton School District has had to resort to school closures this month due to icy roads, but Corbett said city hall has been fairly immune to truncated hours due to deep freeze conditions.
“It really depends on the severity of the situation,” he said. “We’ve delayed openings for city hall before depending on how concerned the population is, if it’s too treacherous for people to move around town.”
Corbett said he could remember one winter “when there were three inches of ice on everything.”
“That really limits people’s ability to get around,” he said.
Corbett said the city sometimes closes select streets and roads for brief periods in the winter.
“If we feel they’re unsafe to travel, we’ll close it to everybody except the local traffic,” he said.
Weather delays local commerce
Hill Meat Co. is perched up near the Pendleton airport and their fleet of 12 trucks has to get around the Western states to deliver the company’s pork products.
“Our trucks have been delayed,” by the severe winter weather, said Makaela Chapman, the company’s administrative assistant. “They’ve had to pull over to the side of the road.”
Chapman said some of the company’s drivers have had trouble getting in and out of Portland. She said the company’s trucks need to deliver to California, Utah, Idaho, Washington, Nevada and Oregon.
“The biggest issue right now is it’s been hard for us to get our belly loads in from Iowa and places like that,” Chapman said, “a lot of those plants are shut down.”
That’s because the winter weather does not stop at Oregon’s eastern border.
Chapman said the company’s drivers have seen “a lot” of car accidents on the freeways, but so far none have been tagged by one.
Chapman said the volume of phone calls she handles has not significantly increased since winter decided to have a late but dramatic start.
‘Never drive faster than you want to ditch’
Meanwhile Umatilla County Commissioner Dan Dorran has noted the county has had to curtail operating hours of offices and the court.
“We shut down (Jan. 17),” Dorran said, “and now we’re playing by ear to see what happens this afternoon.”
Dorran said he is happy with Umatilla County Public Works Director Tom Fellows and the road crew and how well they are maintaining the roads they are responsible for.
“We’ve gotten a lot of compliments on our county roads,” Dorran said. “We prioritize them. First of all, is to get the kids to school. We don’t go out in the middle of the night like the state does. We definitely don’t have the money for that kind of overtime. So what we try to do is get started first thing in the morning.”
Dorran said he learned a great piece of winter driving advice from his mother, who grew up in Wyoming.
“She told me, ‘Never drive faster than you want to ditch,'” he said.
More freezing rain coming
U.S. Weather Service in Pendleton said more snow is on the way.
“Right now we have a warm front sliding through the South,” meteorologist Matt Callihan said. “What that’s doing is keeping really cold air stuck in the lower elevations, and the warm air is having a tough time scouring out the cold air in the lower areas.”
Callihan said he expects freezing rain the morning of Jan. 19, and as that system tapers off with snow accumulating in the Cascades and northern Blue Mountains, there’s potential for a new system to move into the area during the weekend.
“Then we start to see things improving as the second weekend system starts to do a better job of scouring out the cold base,” he said, “but we will still have a potential of freezing rain or sleet going into (Jan. 21).”
Callihan said he expects more liquid precipitation to develop by late the morning of Jan. 21.
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