Last night was my 2nd worst drive home in the last 10 or so years, mainly because of one poor choice.
Meteorologically it was a real interesting evening in that very little precipitation was showing up on radar, just light showers up against the Cascades and in the western Gorge. And sure enough from the time I left the station at 11;45pm (Beaverton) to about NE 122nd Ave. in NE Portland it was totally dry and above freezing. But then very light drizzle started as I headed farther east. The road was wet by the time I got to Wood Village and the temp dropped steadily. The drizzle was steady by Troutdale; apparently falling out of clouds located BELOW the radar beam. The Portland radar beam (all TV stations use the same one) begins at Dixie Mtn. around 2,000′, then climbs in elevation because it’s tilted slightly upward and since the earth is curving away below it. So by the time it’s over Troutdale, it’s around 3-4,000′. This was one of those cases where the heavy drizzle in the western Gorge couldn’t be seen well by radar.
At Troutdale the first ice showed up on the trees as the temp fell to freezing. This is where I made the extremely poor choice. Thinking I was “Unstoppable” in my 4Runner, I decided to continue east on the freeway and go straight up the hill in Corbett instead of the much more gradual “ice storm route” on the old highway. So smart, I could shave 5 minutes off the drive home! Everything was fine until the last turn of the freeway before the exit; suddenly there were trucks and cars sitting all over the highway not moving. And one truck was on the exit blocking it. Soon a truck was behind me too and there I was, trapped on a freeway in the middle of an ice storm on a quarter tank of gas. I sat there for 1/2 hour and nothing moved. An ambulance went by along with police cars too; it was only this afternoon I found out that there was a stabbing just a 1/2 mile east at the same time! Who knew there could be so much drama at 1am in the middle of nowhere? Finally one lane started creeping forward and I was able to go backwards up the entrance ramp (no cars on it) and head up the hill. Extremely slick, not just a little, but totally smooth ice most of the next 4 miles. The last big hill before home drops about 300′ in less than a mile; very steep. I almost ditched it and walked, but instead made it by keeping one set of tires in the ditch or off the pavement which is much crunchier and provides a bit better traction; that’s a technique I’ve refined over the years. Got home at 1:30am. Ended up with 1/4″ ice by this morning. It appears most of it is still there; but at least it’ll be “older” ice on the way home tonight. Maybe a little better traction?
My wife said…“stay near the station next time!”
By the way, the worst drive ever was during that evening snow event in January 2012.
Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen