Supposedly, Portland is going to be snow flurried and ice slicked by tomorrow morning. The panic that ensues when anybody brings up any sort of winter storm is quite possibly one of the most comedic things I’ve ever witnessed (but, in our defense, sometimes it is WELL JUSTIFIED). I grew up in Utah where snow is just par for the course. It’s as much a part of life as not being able to buy wine at the grocery store. Sometimes, if the storm hits right before drive time in the morning, it can cause life to be a little difficult, but it never shuts down a city. In 13 years of public education in the Utah school system I had one snow day. Portland kids can usually expect to enjoy at least two days off due to inclement weather per school year. Utah has a giant fleet of plows ready to go to work at a moment’s notice, and the whole state is salted to prevent frozen roads. Most of this happens so seamlessly and behind the scenes that you don’t see it happening, it’s like invisible weather fairies come along and make everything nice before you go to work. And on the rare occasions when a storm takes everybody by surprise you just buck up and deal. You leave early and drive slowly and cautiously, and everything is usually okay. Anyway – at least once a year in the Portland Vancouver metro area there is some sort of panic – snow storm, ice storm, freezing rain or freezing fog (I still have no idea what freezing fog is, but it sounds suspiciously like some sort of comic book phenomenon in which there is a dangerous fog that wanders around freezing people). Each new panic has it’s own special name (Winter Storm 2001, Stormapalooza 2002) and the news channels play frightening music as the over voice intones something about being the best storm team EVER as they proceed to update you on the flake count of Shit Storm 2003. In honor of Stormageddon 2011 I thought I’d share a few of my fondest memories of Portland weather catastrophies.
In January of 2004 I was attending Portland State University. It was the week after the holiday break, the start of a brand new term. Monday in my chemistry class a girl raised her hand and asked what we were going to do if the predicted ice storm was as bad as they were saying and we weren’t able to come to school. The teacher made some bland reply (smothered in thinly veiled sarcasm) about how it’s never as bad as they predict, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it and somehow make up the work later. I distinctly remember thinking to myself “what a nut job, she’s that worried about the weather?” Tuesday morning my alarm went off at 5 as usual, but rather than the usual “witty” banter the DJs were reciting a long list of school closures. HUH? I opened the blinds and gasped audibly. I had never seen an ice storm before, so if you haven’t I forgive your ignorance and don’t expect you to understand. The entire WORLD was frozen. The enormous parking lot of my apartment complex was a sheet of solid ice inches thick. Had I a pair of skates I could have done figure eights or played hockey. It was bad ya’ll. I mean, this shit made national news. Here’s a photo gallery if you’re interested. I was trapped in my apartment with nothing other than Storm Watch 2004 and reruns of That 70s Show for 5 days. I’m not even exaggerating, I could barely make it across the parking lot without falling on my ass and then discovered that my car was frozen to the ground. The public transportation systems all but shut down – the light rail tracks were frozen and the buses kept careening sideways and sliding off the road. The ENTIRE AIRPORT WAS SHUT DOWN for crying out loud. In it’s history I don’t believe the SLC airport has ever been closed (but I can’t find any statistics about it, so don’t quote me).
Fast forward to 2007. My work schedule was such that by the time the snow started at 7:30ish, I had long since finished my commute. There were 3 or 4 of us that made it in, and sat in our offices watching out the windows as the sky ripped open and giant, fluffy flakes poured down. It was seriously bizarre, as I hadn’t seen snow like that since moving away from SLC 6 years previously. And it just kept coming, usually the snow storms in Portland are mere flurries and last a few minutes, and the snow doesn’t stick. This stuff, however, was definitely sticking and piling up. The phone calls from panicked employees starting coming in, nobody was going to make the drive– the road conditions were too awful. Our pathetic skeleton crew got as much done as we could manage and then headed home early. I had briefly considered hitching a ride with my sister (who worked with me and had a Subaru) and then just spending the night at her house, but at the last minute decided to chance it. It was the eeriest commute I’ve ever had. Honestly, it was apocalyptic. There were no other cars driving on the freeways, just me, which is lucky, because THIS IS THE SHIT that was happening during the morning commute while I was already safely at work (stick with it until the 1:22 mark to see some serious craziness). I inched my tiny little Hyundai over the crazy scary Fremont bridge, briefly wondering how fast I would die were I to miscalculate a turn and plunge into the Willamette river. The snow was still on the roads as there is no legion of plows in Portland and the freezing temps had made the top layer all freezy and slippery. I slipped and slid along, horrified to see cars abandoned on the side of the road. People had slid off into the snow drifts on the side of the freeway and just left their cars. Somehow with much cursing and white knuckling I made it to my humble abode.
But last year? Last year kiddies, holy SHIT. The snow storm started at about 3 in the afternoon. My boss told me to leave, try and get home before all hell broke loose. The husband had to stay for inventory so I was riding with sis. We hop in her car and drive the 2 miles to the freeway entrance to find traffic at a dead fucking stop. Not slow, STOPPED. Like, moving centimeters in hours. No really. We could have taken the back roads, but who knows if they were any better? So we slowly inched (centimetered) onto the freeway and parked behind everyone else. An hour went by and we went nowhere. Two hours and we hadn’t driven 2 miles. Three hours and we had made our way possibly 5 miles, my sister decides to exit the freeway at this point as it is obviously going nowhere and our normally 30 minute commute has turned into a gigantic nightmare (and we are both losing our minds! All we are able to do is to moan THIS FUCKING SUCKS every minute or so). Another mistake, as traffic everywhere has now become a giant, fucking, fuckwad and all of the fucktards are just lurching around, googley eyed with panic, turning this way and sliding that way and GOOD GOD WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO?! I would watch some of their maneuvers and wonder where in hell they had learned to do these things?! I took driver’s education in Utah ya’ll, so they taught us how to pump the breaks when stopping in the snow, and to steer through a skid instead of breaking so just watching these ridiculous things was painful. I wanted to SCREAM!!!! After another God knows how long we finally made it to a bridge. Portland is divided in half by The Willamette River. If you work on one side of the city and live on the other, the only way to get to your pad is by taking one of the bridges. Unfortunately, everybody else was trying to use this very same bridge. Another parking lot. Have you ever seen the movie Falling Down? I totally identify with Michael Douglas. Traffic is at a standstill, I’ve been sitting on my ass in a car for like 4 and a half fucking hours at this point, and aside from the fact that both my sister and I are ready to scratch each other’s eyes out and/or stab innocent people on the street we’ve both GOT TO PEE LIKE RIGHT NOW. So she slides the car to a curb, we park and get out to walk into a gas station. Then go to a fast food joint to eat some food. And sit there. And sit there. And watch the cars on the bridge go nowhere. After a 30ish minute break we get back in and join the rest of the idiots. And go nowhere. And nowhere. Finally FINALLY we inch around the curve at the end of the bridge that leads to Barbur Blvd. So close to my house!! SO CLOSE! And there’s a car careened off to the side of the tunnel blocking one of the two lanes, which explains the going nowhere. Further ahead there are PILES OF CARS that people just parked and left there. Did they walk home? Did they call cabs? Did they commit ritual suicide? Did The Rapture happen? I mean SERIOUSLY! The cars! They were abandoned, IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD! They didn’t even bother to pull over!! I think after all was said and done it took 6 hours to get home that night. 6 hours. SIX HOURS. I guess I’ll be up early in the morning, checking for ice and panicking.
And as an update, I’m looking out my window and so far all I’ve seen is a few whispers of flakes, nothing more.