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Winter weather bears down after dry Oregon autumn

By Jonathan J. Cooper

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Jan. 16 2012 6:12 p.m. MST

Participants wait in the snow for the beginning of the 13th annual Cascade Half-Marathon starting and ending at Cascade High School in Turner, Ore., on Sunday, Jan. 15, 2012.

Statesman-Journal, Kobbi R. Blair, Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. — After a warm autumn and a dry start to the winter, Mother Nature has unloaded on Oregon, coating mountains with snow and snarling travel across much of the state. And forecasters said more is coming.

Skiers and snowboarders flocked to the fresh powder, and farmers who depend on melting snow for spring irrigation had a little more hope.

The more dangerous consequences of winter weather were also on display as cars slid off highways and jackknifed semis blocked roads. One man died, and a mother was hospitalized along with her four children after an ice-related crash.

Most of Oregon was under some form of winter weather alert through Wednesday afternoon. The most severe weather was anticipated in the Columbia River Gorge and the Hood River Valley, where 5 to 7 inches of snow was possible.

Forecasters warned that a storm moving in Tuesday night threatened to bog down the Wednesday morning commute in Portland and Salem while dumping heavy snow on the Cascades and the Gorge. One to 3 inches was possible in the Coast Range, along with a mixture of snow and rain in the Willamette Valley.

"If the temperatures stay as cold as they have been, we could see some pretty decent snow accumulations," said Liana Rodriguez, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Portland.

Storms delivered several inches of snow to some of Oregon's tallest peaks, plenty of bait on mountains starving for skiers.

"There's a lot of pent up powder demand out there," said Andy Goggins, marketing and communications director for the Mount Bachelor Ski Resort near Bend. "This is the first big snow we've had since opening weekend, and everyone's having a lot of fun with it."

Eager skiers and snowboarders filled the parking lot at Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood nearly to capacity Sunday, and Monday was looking similarly busy, spokesman Jon Tullis said. The slopes got 18 inches of fresh snow over 48 hours, he said.

Officials at the Mount Ashland Ski Area in southern Oregon were hoping for enough snow to re-open by the weekend after a rare mid-season closure that has lasted two weeks, said marketing director Rick Saul.

Snow was expected to ease up late Wednesday in lower elevations to be followed by milder conditions in the valleys, but forecasters said wet and windy weather would linger through the weekend. On the coast, forecasts showed heavy rains and strong winds late in the week, with gusts in the Coast Range up to 70 or 80 mph.

With heavy rains come swelling rivers, and meteorologists planned to keep an eye out for flood dangers later in the week, forecasters said.

Farmers who rely on melting snow to water their crops also were pleased with the fresh powder after a winter spent eyeing a snowpack far below normal levels for this time of year. At one Mount Hood measuring station, the snow depth has jumped 5 inches in a week, to 54 inches as of Sunday. At the same station last year there were 77 inches that day.

"We don't have manmade storage in most parts of the state, so we really are reliant on what the snowpack provides," said Dave Dillon, executive vice president of the Oregon Farm Bureau.

Icy roads caused a number of accidents. A Eugene man, 52-year-old Edward Jay Bray, died when a sport-utility vehicle lost control on ice, crossed the center line and collided with his small sedan on Highway 126W west of Veneta. The driver of the SUV, 36-year-old Jeanette Bell of Noti, and her four children ages 2 to 16 were hospitalized but are expected to survive.

A 20-year-old Monmouth woman was critically injured in another ice-related crash Sunday evening west of Salem. Two others were taken to hospitals but were expected to survive.

Early Monday, jackknifed tractor-trailers briefly blocked highways near Cottage Grove and Corvallis, and a number of vehicles spun out on U.S. Highway 20, said Rick Little, a spokesman for the Oregon Department of Transportation. Transportation crews cleared the roadways, and there were no major injuries in those incidents.

"They certainly do serve as a reminder that motorists in this kind of weather need to plan ahead and plan on delays," Little said.

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