Drivers urged to watch the forecast and be ready
VANCOUVER — With the potential for snow and ice sometime in the next week, officials with the city of Vancouver, Clark County, C-TRAN, Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and Washington State Patrol (WSP) had a message for people in the area:
Stock up, slow down, and if the snow starts falling and you don’t have to be out, stay home.
“If you don’t need to drive, don’t drive,” said Trooper Will Finn. “Try to telecommute if you are working, if you have doctor’s appointments, or other appointments that you have to get to, try to reschedule those now if you see that the weather is going to take a turn.”
The National Weather Service in Portland says cold arctic air will sweep into the region from western Canada and the Gulf of Alaska sometime Monday afternoon into Tuesday. Areas above 500 feet could see an inch or two of snow sometime Monday evening through Tuesday morning, with high temperatures on Tuesday likely to top out at or above freezing for many places in the metro area.
Tuesday night into Wednesday, forecasters expect the surface low to deepen, bringing more cold air through the Columbia River Gorge into the metro area. Depending on where the low pressure sets up, bands of moisture could swing through the area Wednesday and Thursday, with the potential for up to half a foot of snow in parts of Clark County and the northern Willamette Valley.
Of course there’s always the chance that this could change, as we saw repeatedly last Winter with a number of potential snow-makers that skirted the area and hit cities from Tacoma north instead.
Even with the possible snow storm still several days away, Brad Clark, assistant superintendent with WSDOT SW Washington, said they want to get the word out for people to be ready, and not wait until the last minute to get prepared.
“Know before you go. Before you leave your house, take a look at the road conditions,” said Clark. “Take a look at our website or Facebook account, or Twitter. And that will give you a good idea what’s going on with the roads before you take off.”
Clark said his department has seven plow trucks, which can also lay down deicing fluid, and the ability to bring in more from surrounding areas if needed. They also have around 400 tons of salt on hand between Vancouver and Washougal, as well as around 18,000 gallons of deicing fluid.
Clark says WSDOT will begin running shifts around the clock as soon as the snow starts falling. They’ll focus first on I-5 and I-205 first.
“And then we will work from the south to the north mainly,” he says, “so SR-14 and SR-500, and work our way out.”
While WSDOT focuses on the highways, crews with Clark County Public Works will be focused on Highway 99, 119th Street, 78th Street, and other arterials outside the city.
“When it looks like there’s going to be an ice event we’ll go out and do an ant-icer, which is kind of a salt brine,” said Magan Reed, a senior communications manager with the county. “We can’t lay it down if there’s rain because it would wash it off of the road. So it becomes a timing issue where we’re watching those forecasts really closely to make sure we get the timing exactly right.”
Ryan Miles, superintendent of street crews for the city of Vancouver, said they have up to 18 plows with deicer that they can deploy, but those crews will also be focused on the main arterials in the early stages of any snow or ice event, including Mill Plain, Fourth Plain, and downtown areas.
“We also put a priority on making sure that at fire stations and police stations, access is clear so they can get out and do their jobs as well,” said Miles.
As for sidewalks, Miles said property owners are responsible for clearing snow or ice from any sidewalks next to their property line, but crews will help where they can.
Christine Selk with C-TRAN said buses should be a reliable way to get around in all but the worst kind of snow or ice storm, though some routes could be changed or canceled depending on conditions.
“We have drop down chains on all of our fixed route and paratransit vehicles,” Selk said, “so it makes it easy to be able to have those just go into immediate service, so that the buses can continue on the route.”
For up-to-date route information, delays, or changes, Selk said they recommend following C-TRAN’s social media feeds, or C-TRAN.com. You can also sign up for email or text alerts through the website.
“I think it’s also important to remember that a lot of routes can be affected, detoured or completely disrupted if the weather gets really bad,” added Selk, “and you need to be prepared by dressing warmly, you need to wear something reflective so our drivers can see you in case of a whiteout or blowing snow situation.”
C-TRAN also allows passengers to ask their driver to stop mid-route during inclement weather events, as long as it’s safe, so they can get off closer to their destination.
If you must drive a vehicle, crews asked several times that you give snow plows a wide berth, be patient, and make sure you’re prepared to be out in bad weather.
“Please don’t be overconfident in your abilities or your vehicle’s abilities. Just because you have a four-by-four vehicle doesn’t mean that you’re able to stop on ice,” said Finn. “Please do not abandon your vehicles on the freeway. We don’t need other issues that are out there. So please pull safely off the highway, or take the next available exit for a safe location.”
Abandoned vehicles, Finn says, gum up the works for emergency crews trying to clear roads, and get to places where they need to be. That can cause major delays in responding to emergencies, or getting help where it’s most needed.
Oh, and no driving after scraping a tiny clear spot into the ice or snow on your windshield.
“It’s our responsibility as drivers to maintain control of the vehicle that we’re driving, so in order to make that happen, we have to have full visibility,” said Finn. “So if you see that the snow is building up on your windshield, or there’s ice building up on the windshield again, take the next available exit to a safe location, get out, re-scrape your windshield, and then continue on your travels.”
Be sure to keep checking back with ClarkCountyToday.com throughout next week for school closures, traffic information and, hopefully, pictures of people enjoying a snow day in Clark County.