PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Light flurries fell on parts of Southwest Portland, Beaverton and Hillsboro Tuesday morning, but that was nothing compared to what other parts of the state are experiencing.
A winter weather advisory for the Coast Range goes into effect at 1 p.m. Tuesday and will last until 10 p.m. Snow is expected at areas above 2,000 feet and could accumulate up to 4 inches. Wind gusts could reach 40 mph.
On the other side of the valley, all along the Cascades, a winter storm watch will be in effect from late Tuesday night through Thursday morning.
Another winter storm watch is in effect from late Tuesday through late Wednesday night in areas east of John Day, including a large part of Baker County.
Right now, the Portland area is not a top concern for the Oregon Department of Transportation, but the rest of the state is. As these winter storms set in, ODOT is facing a snowplow driver shortage that could affect people throughout the state.
“We’re down in snowplow drivers right now. We’re going to see a decline in the ability to get the roads cleared,” said Don Hamilton, spokesperson for ODOT. “People are going to need to remember that it’s not going to be as quick as we’d like to do.”
While the most dire need for snow plow drivers is in Eastern Oregon, where ODOT is down about 40 drivers, the rest of the state could feel the shortage too.
In the event of a major storm, Hamilton said the Portland area should also expect it to take longer to clear the roads with ODOT’s current staffing levels.
Outside of Eastern Oregon, there are about 132 open snow plow driver positions across the state that need to be filled.
In anticipation of oncoming storms, Hamilton said ODOT crews have been busy using de-icer on roadways. They spread it on dry roads every couple days ahead of a storm and the chemicals in the mixture make it difficult for ice to form on roadways.
When a storm comes in, ODOT will shift gears and assign staff to 12-hour shifts to clear roads
KOIN 6 News asked Hamilton if ODOT will require snow plow drivers to work overtime in a storm. He said he doesn’t know how the agency’s overtime rules work for drivers, but said ODOT does its best to make sure drivers don’t get burned out from long hours when a storm does hit.
ODOT is conducting what Hamilton said is an aggressive recruiting process for snow plow drivers. It’s been sending emails out about jobs and Hamilton said he’s been receiving calls from interested applicants when he mentions the driver shortage in his news releases.
“These are good jobs and we hope that people will apply for them and we hope we get these filled soon. But until we do, it’s going to take us a little longer to get the roads cleared once we get hit by a big storm,” Hamilton said.
If more snow plow drivers are needed in a certain area, Hamilton said ODOT will send drivers from other parts of the state to that area to help.
In the Portland area
Officials with the Portland Bureau of Transportation said regardless of what this storm system brings, people need to start preparing their homes and vehicles for winter weather.
At a Les Schwab location in Beaverton, Manager Aaron Smithers said they’re busy with drivers buying chains and putting on winter tires — and that’s not all your vehicle needs.
“Make sure you’ve got water, maybe a day’s worth of water and food. of course good flares so you’ve got somewhere to communicate if you’re in the snow,” Smithers said. “Obviously having traction devices making sure you can travel, as well.”
PBOT crews have used de-icer on bridges and high elevation streets and they’re preparing for additional staffing if the forecast takes a twist.
And they said if and when the city does see some widespread snow it’s best not to drive. But if you have to go somewhere, use TriMet.