In the community

Malheur alert: Stay off the roads as snow, cold front settle in

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ONTARIO – The National Weather Service is urging people in Malheur County to stay off the highways and be safe as a winter storm sweeps across the region, bringing heavy snow and frigid temperatures.

The Weather Service issued a winter storm warning for the area through Saturday night, with 2 to 5 inches of snow expected Friday and more through the evening.

Temperatures are expected to get as low as 6 degrees Friday evening, according to the National Weather Service.

Heavy snow is expected to continue Saturday, Jan. 13, with up to 8 inches in the afternoon through the night. Forecasters predict wind gusts to reach as high as 35.

Forecasters predict the heavy snow will last until early Sunday morning, shifting to a chance of light snow as the temperature rises to a high of about 29 degrees.

Officials are warning residents to stay close to home during the storm.

“Those with travel plans this weekend should pay close attention to the forecast and consider not traveling if possible,” the weather service said.

Paul Woodruff, the manager of the state Transportation Department’s District 14, delivered a simple message regarding weekend travel Friday.

“If you don’t have to travel, don’t,” he said.

Woodruff manages a district that includes Harney, Grant and Malheur counties and he said it will be all hands-on deck for his snow plow crews over the weekend.

“Everybody we have scheduled will be on,” he said.

Woodruff said his crews – who work day and night shifts – will also extend their hours to create an overlap of service during the weekend. Each shift, he said will, extend by four hours.

“We will basically end up with 24-hour coverage,” he said.

Woodruff said the main focus of his plow crews will be Interstate 84 and U.S. Highway 20.

He said during the day ten plows will be available while at night there will be seven plows working between Ontario and Vale.

He said every piece of equipment will be utilized during the weekend snow storm, except for a grader.

Interstate 84 has been closed recently because of crashes due to icy road conditions.

Officials said those who must travel should keep an extra flashlight, food, and water in their vehicle in case of an emergency. Always go to before getting on the road or call 511 for road conditions.

Looking ahead, the region will see temperatures drop to single digits, with the low for Ontario dipping to 1 degree Monday night, Jan. 15.

The persistent cold spell prompted Malheur County officials to open a 24-hour warming shelter for the homeless, starting at noon Saturday, Jan. 13, at Girvin Hall on the Malheur County Fairgrounds.

Malheur County Emergency Services put out a call for volunteers to help with the shelter.

Lt. Rich Harriman, Malheur County Emergency Services director, said help is needed for three eight-hour shifts each day until Friday, Jan. 19, when plans call for the temporary shelter to close. People who want to help should call Tristin Wishard, at 541-212-1273 or 541-823-3230.

NOTE TO READERS: As the storm develops, we invite you to send us information and photos to [email protected] to help us report. Thank you.

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