About That Drive Home Last Night…

5:30pm Friday…

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

57 Responses to About That Drive Home Last Night…

  1. bgb41 says:


  2. orwxguy says:

    I was looking at temps around the area and noticed something funky near Florence, on Cannibal Mountain, at elevation 1939… since the 1st of the year, the temperature has been near or above 100 degrees with close to 100% humidity. Do ya think there might be something wrong with the temperature/humidity gauges??? I know we have inversions… I don’t think this is one of those…

    • David B. says:

      What’s the chances of it being 100 degrees F in January in Oregon?

      Obviously an instrument or software issue someplace.

  3. W7ENK says:

    00z GFS = Oh Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!!!!!!! 😯

  4. ____________________________________________________
    9:27 PM Update, because it’s what I do, for no apparent reason.

    Noticing cold air mass east of the Washington Cascades is thickening up as well as starting to expand and pull westward.
    850mb Temps/Trends
    -4 hours ago


    Most noticeable would be the 925mb cold pool now being pulled westward into the central Gorge.
    925mb Temps/Trends
    -4 hours ago


    KPTV Tower Temps
    As of 8 PM (1 hour lag. Updates every :15 after the hour)
    Upper Sensor(1818′) 40.1 (41.9 at 7:00 PM)
    Middle Sensor(1473′) 34.2 (35.8 at 7:00 PM)
    Lower Sensor(1043′) 33.3 (32.9 at 7:00 PM)

    05z(9 PM) Upper Air Analysis(Observed over PDX)
    925mb: +5.6c
    850mb: +3.5c
    700mb: +3.6c
    500mb: -19.1c

    9 PM Gradients
    PDX-DLS: -8.1mb | 8 PM: -8.2mb | Hourly Change: 0.1mb Decrease
    TTD-DLS: -8.6mb | 8 PM: -8.4mb | Hourly Change: 0.2mb Increase
    OTH-GEG: -8.5mb | 8 PM: -7.8mb | Hourly Change: 0.7mb Increase

  5. Marcus says:

    Now we need the 00Z ECMWF too come thru as well!:)

  6. swift says:

    If you like Snow please don’t look at the 00z GFS, you will get too excited from what your going to see. Things trending GREAT!

  7. 00z GFS = Extremely close to major arctic blast, and I don’t mean it isn’t close, I mean it IT close. Confused? I’ll try harder next time.

    • GFS is the best GFS run of the past month or longer. It looks fantastic and an eye lash from a big arctic blast, not just this kiddie fake cold or modified filtered stuff. Assuming it isn’t an outlier, it looks very ECMWF. It makes me want pizza….

      Really and I don’t think I am getting too carried away, but we’re close to a situation where we go from that mid-week trough right to pure gold, with perhaps the ridge axis getting into position sooner. IF MAYBE MAYBE? MAYBE YES.

    • swift says:

      Also take into account after after 192, the model resolution dumbs down. Cold air will more effectively spill more west of the terrain in the lower res model!

    • Dave in SW PDX (235') says:

      The operational has fallen in step with the ensembles, which have looked good lately. This is starting to get interesting!

    • Jordan (Raleigh Hills, 420') says:

      Wohooo. yah 00z GFS looking greaaaat! Looks like some really cold nights though brrrrrrr. teens and single digits, harsh. I’ll take the snow though. And the sunny days in between. Let’s just hope the next few runs keep the idea going. Come on 06z GFS!

  8. David B. says:

    From the latest Seattle NWS forecast discussion:


    Not an arctic blast, but something to look forward to nonetheless. Hope to get something out of it; I am up and away from the water at 320 feet elevation. Every little bit helps in such marginal situations.

  9. Dave in SW PDX (235') says:

    Tonight’s 00Z GFS operational is looking much better than the 18Z. Some real potential there for arctic air in the PNW if I’m interpreting things correctly.

  10. *BoringOregon* says:

    I thank, it was raining here last night when you guys said it was not just a drizzle though. Maybe if I had a car and could drive if I new that it was going to frezz rain I would bring a huge bag of Ice melt. Just to let you know it’s about 34 out here right now and the grass is all icy?

  11. orwxguy says:

    Beautiful day in Corvallis once the fog lifted… High near 50 with lots of sun… once the sun set, though, fog came back… no east wind, no ice, just a typical January evening….

  12. JERAT416 says:

    Yeah I ice is a pain in any vehicle with any tires. Only thing worse than freezing rain is unexpected black ice. I have driven to the top of Bald Peak south of hillsboro in a foot of fresh snow without chains and that was easier than what Mark did!

  13. kdi says:

    My driveway is 2.5 miles of a single lane dirt road. We got the foot of snow xmas day which i happily graded the following day. Been a few winters since i have even needed the blade.

    My folks also live on that 2.5 mile stretch and have a short, steep pitch about half a mile at most up a hill. The soil above the road is about 12″ deep and the november rains had it saturated. The snowfall fell on thawed ground. There is a spring at the top of their driveway that seeps with saturated ground. Add in the fog pattern with a high of 21 for 8 days….

    And you have a 100 yard ice rink about 2″ thick on a 14 degree slope. My graded snowbanks give little comfort when driving down that thing. Crazy frightening. I understand marks pain.

  14. 7 PM
    PDX-DLS -7.7mb
    TTD-DLS -7.7mb

    The Dalles is already down to 25, Dewpoint 18.
    Columbia Basin is quite cold too. Dewpoints are crashing east of I-205 as east wind has become real gusty again. It may become raging overnight.

  15. One question for Mark: Got Studs?

  16. cgavic says:

    The life of living in the gorge in winter.
    That takes me back 6 years ago when my mom decided to sell the house her parents had lived in along with their double lot just above swan island. She had to put up with the cutting ice east winds and ice over everything there. A whole week’s worth.

    When she decided to sell the property, she didn’t know if she wanted Gresham or sandy to live in.
    Weather-wise, I jumped in and calmly persuaded her to choose sandy over Gresham. She liked snow, not east wind and ice. Sandy we settled in. Happy still.

  17. paulbeugene says:

    Mark: your story reminds me of driving home from med school (Ohsu)….took 3 hrs to get from top of hill to 405 on ramp in snow.

    18z GFS ops stinx but ensembles is best of past 4 runs ….my previous thoughts on arctic stand for now but perhaps day 6-7 may offer a nice surprise dose of cold air…oh wait…is that jan 11?

    Day 15 of 18z ensemble has EXACTLY the 500 mb pattern we need for arctic invasion…but that is day 15

  18. So glad you got home ok. What an experience! And…when you are tired & just ready to relax a little. If you are going to try this again how about a full tank of gas & some jeans,boots & heavy jacket in the rig at all times. But maybe…just maybe…there won;t be a “next time” 🙂

  19. Ryan says:

    Thanks, Mark! Awesome story, glad you made it back safe tho!

  20. Tyler Mode in Battle Ground says:

    I made a drive into the gorge this afternoon in hopes of taking some icy waterfalls pics, here’s my story:

    Some ice on signs in Troutdale. By Exit 22, there was very noticeable ice on the signs and trees and the side of the road.

    Between Exit 22 and 24, there was approximately 12 semi’s off the road, some just pulled over, some damaged from previous accidents.

    Exit 25, Rooster Rock, one SUV rolled over.

    Exit 28, the exit I took to get to the waterfalls, met with several cars off the road, two tow trucks, flares, cones etc…exit closed.

    I stayed about 20 minutes walking around taking pics. Everything was coated, including the pavement.

    There was heavy ice fall from the trees.

    Upon my return, the freeway was DRY everywhere Troutdale east.

    It’s amazing how quickly the road conditions changed, very dangerous. I regretted making my drive out there, I was scared at times, even during the day with the amount of ice I saw on the freeway, the spray from the trucks, and the still very gusty winds.

    A few pics:

  21. Fweezing Wayne says:

    Poor Mark. I would have hit Old Chicago then Homewood Suites… and got to sleep at the same time.

  22. W7ENK says:


  23. Just thinking of Corbett Hill being iced over would have freaked me out – I definitely would have gone though Springdale instead – yeah yeah hindsight is 20/20.

  24. PDX Weather Nut says:

    Ice is hard to deal with when driving. Snow is much easier. There was never really a “snow event” in January 2012 at my location in NE PDX, just enough to barely coat the ground followed quickly by a nasty cold rain. The last real “snow event” for PDX was in December of 2008.

  25. Ian says:

    I guess you should just stay at work all night – that’ll teach you! Well seriously, glad you made it home safely.

  26. bgb41 says:

    Socked in with fog all day here at BG Lake. I would rather have east winds.

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