In the community

Malheur weather watch: Stay off the roads

ONTARIO – Paul Woodruff, the manager of the State Transportation Department’s District 14, reported this evening that his crews in the Ontario and Vale region are keeping up with the snow, and all the main roads remain open.

The National Weather Service warns people in Malheur County to stay off the highways as a winter storm continues into the night Saturday, bringing heavy snow and frigid temperatures to the region.

The National Weather Service warns that Malheur County could see 6 to 10 inches of snow with temperatures in the low teens overnight, according to an updated Jan. 13 weather advisory. The forecast calls for snow, heavy at times, through the evening.

Malheur County began to see light flurries of snow around 1 p.m. Saturday. As of late afternoon, roads remained open after Interstate 84 eastbound between Ontario and La Grande was closed late Friday for several hours due to multiple crashes, according to Tripcheck. As of 5 p.m. Saturday, the Oregon Department of Transportation showed the freeway open. 

Forecasters predict the heavy snow will last until late Sunday morning as the temperature rises to about 32 degrees and the storm gives way to mostly sunny skies. 

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.

Woodruff on Friday delivered a simple message regarding weekend travel.

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

State transportation department crews have extended regular shifts by four hours to overlap service during the weekend. The main focus of the plow crews has been Interstate 84 and U.S. Highway 20.

Woodruff said seven plows have been working between Ontario and Vale.

The cold spell prompted Malheur County officials to open a 24-hour warming shelter for the homeless, which opened at noon Saturday, Jan. 13, at Girvin Hall on the Malheur County Fairgrounds. The shelter will be open until noon Friday, Jan. 19. The shelter will have cots for sleeping, will offer meals, supplies and security.

To schedule a free ride to the shelter, call 877-875-4657; rides are also being provided by the state Department of Emergency Services and can be arranged by calling 866-698-6155 or by dialing 711. Additionally, the Malheur County on Aging is offering rides through the weekend and can be scheduled by calling 541-212-9085. During the week, a free ride can be set up by calling 541-881-0000, according to the aging counsel.

Lt. Rich Harriman, Malheur County Emergency Services director, said about 25 people were at the shelter Saturday, Jan. 13. Two meals – one for lunch and one for dinner – were served, according to Harriman.  He said the shelter is still seeking volunteers. Anyone interested in volunteering at the shelter can call 877-875-4657.

Amanda Grosdidier, president of Ani-Care, the county’s lone animal shelter in Nyssa, said in a Saturday, Jan. 13 email that pet owners can protect animals from the freezing temperatures by limiting their time outdoors, regularly checking paws for frostbite and ensuring they have fresh water. 

She also said pets need a shelter where they can retain body heat and recommended using straw – not cloth – for bedding to help insulate them from the cold.

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.

A snowplow near Ontario, Saturday, Jan. 13 (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell)
Snow begins to fall in Vale Saturday, Jan. 13, as a winter storm warning remains in effect through tonight until 5 a.m. Sunday. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell)

EDITORS NOTE: This story has been updated from its original version to reflect Lt. Rich Harriman’s comments.