Old man winter arrives ahead of schedule

By Dick Mason, The Observer December 04, 2013 10:39 am

Interstate 84 closed because of accidents 

Winter, despite what the calendar says, arrived on Tuesday. 

The approximately 100 trucks at the Flying J Travel Plaza and the 70 parked along nearby Highway 203 Tuesday morning were proof. The trucks were forced off Interstate 84 because the westbound lanes between Pendleton and La Grande were closed for much of the morning and early afternoon due to weather-related traffic accidents. 

The I-84 closure, 19 days before winter officially begins, was the first of the 2013-14 winter season. 

“Winter is here. We knew it was coming, we just did not know when it would arrive. Drivers should now expect winter driving conditions,” said Tom Strandberg, a public information officer for the Oregon Department of Transportation.

The I-84 closure was extended late in the morning from La Grande to Baker City and then to Ontario to prevent the build up of trucks along highways in La Grande and Baker City.

“Things were getting plugged up because of all the trucks along the side of roads,” Strandberg said.

At one time late Tuesday morning, the entire freeway between Pendleton and Ontario was closed. Fortunately by 2 p.m., the entire stretch between Pendleton and Ontario was again open, Strandberg said.

The sub-freezing temperatures and the snow that blanketed the landscape throughout Northeast Oregon is the result of a low-pressure system, which dropped out of Canada into this region.

“It brought very cold air and the snow level to ground level (throughout the region),” said Rachel Trimarco, a forecaster for the National Weather Service office in Pendleton. 

The National Weather Service is forecasting dry and cold weather through a portion of Thursday. Another weather system is expected to arrive Thursday, one which will drop additional snow on the region through Friday.

Drivers are urged to take precautions as winter driving conditions take hold, Strandberg said. They should slow down, plan to take additional time for trips, allow for extra stopping distance, brake gently to avoid skidding or sliding, carry chains and turn off their cruise control.

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