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Oregon braces for powerful winds, heavy snow

By Nigel Duara

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 17 2012 5:45 p.m. MST

Austin Flukinger, 15, of Astoria, Ore., attempts an aerial dismount from his sled after launching off a ramp made out of snow at Astoria Middle School on Monday, Jan. 16, 2012. The amount of actual snowfall varied across the state, but traffic accidents and clogged roadways were the norm across a northern strip of the state that extended from the coast to the Cascades and included the northern lowlands in the Willamette Valley.

The Daily Astorian, Alex Pajunas, Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. — Communities across Oregon braced for a new punch from Mother Nature as forecasters warned of hurricane-force wind gusts overnight on the coast and heavy snow in the Columbia River Gorge and the Cascades.

The National Weather Service issued winter storm warnings for the mountains until Wednesday afternoon. A less severe winter weather advisory was in effect for the Willamette Valley, but forecasters backed off earlier projections that significant snow accumulation was possible in Portland. By Tuesday afternoon, they didn't expect snow at lower elevations, with most of Portland seeing a mix of rain and snow.

Strong winds were expected along the entire Oregon coast, with particularly powerful gusts of at least 75 mph from Lincoln City south. Road crews had chain saws ready to chop up toppled trees, and the Coast Guard was tying down equipment to protect it from powerful wind gusts.

"If it gets as strong as they're talking about, there will probably be some people losing shingles and that kind of stuff," said Jim Buisman, Lincoln County's public works director. "It's really hard to predict, of course. A lot's going to depend on just where it hits and how hard it hits."

Coastal communities are used to powerful winds, Buisman said, and crews are ready to respond to hazards.

The Coast Guard in Astoria was securing its equipment and reminding mariners that river bars often close in severe weather, Petty Officer Shawn Eggert said. People should check their safety equipment before taking a boat out, or they should ensure it's safely moored if they're on land, he said.

Winds were also expected inland, starting in the south and central Valley and moving north in the afternoon.

Forecasts showed temperatures beginning to rise at most elevations by Wednesday afternoon with rain continuing for several days. The Weather Service said rising rivers could cause concern on Thursday and Friday.

Wednesday's anticipated activity was just the latest winter weather after a weekend of snow showers and cold temperatures.

Log trucks spun out on ice, school districts closed bus routes and colleges cancelled early classes as parts of Oregon dealt with a rare snowy morning Tuesday that wreaked havoc statewide.

The amount of actual snowfall varied across the state, but traffic accidents and clogged roadways were the norm across a northern strip of the state that extended from the coast to the Cascades and included the northern lowlands in the Willamette Valley.

Natural Resources Conservation Service snow survey supervisor Jon Lea said Oregon is at only 38 percent of its average snowpack for the year, though the latest snowstorm served as a 2 percent increase by itself. The snowpack was helped when a long-lasting high-pressure system moved.

"We saw the door open up, saw some storm activity, which we haven't seen for the whole month of December," Lea said. "Every bit helps."

In Portland, the city is still stinging from the fallout of a 2008 winter snowstorm that caused major traffic backups and public transportation delays. This year, the city's Bureau of Transportation spread a de-icing solution over major roadways. The solution, calcium magnesium acetate, is considered less toxic and non-corrosive.

Portland does not use rock salt to prevent ice.

"We're not expecting huge accumulations of snow," said Bureau of Transportation spokeswoman Cheryl Kuck. "But we're ready for anything."

Many school districts started late or even closed altogether.

The first storm system moved in during the weekend, creating white-knuckle driving conditions for drivers crossing the Pacific Coast Range and sending hail-forming clouds over coastal cities. Wet, fluffy snow began to fall on Sunday in the Willamette Valley and persisted sporadically through Monday and Tuesday.

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