A Portland Snow Event, 11-15 Feb 2021

Why yes, it was just last week when I was talking about how I enjoy Portland’s temperate winters. OnRhodes correctly surmised that I was “jinxing” things by talking about it. And jinx I did: We’ve had a significant winter weather event over the weekend.

While snow in Portland isn’t uncommon during winter, most of it is the “a bit of flurries, sticks on grass for a day” type. Good snow happens on average every three to five years. My first decade in Portland saw only two big events: The snow/ice storm that lasted the better part of a week in January 2004 (I had the misfortune of living in a house with no real heat, and oh yeah, the pipes froze), and Snowpocalypse in December of 2008, which consisted of nearly three weeks of snow/ice on the ground and subfreezing temps. After a mellow few years, the aughts cranked up the snow a notch: the storm in February 2014, and the pretty snowy winter of 2016-17 that culminated with a pretty good snow. The last few years have seen some sort of snow (though I don’t recall anything of note in 2019) with a very unwelcome late-late March snow last year. It’s been four years since a real storm, so we were due.

Portland lies above the 45 parallel, further north than Minneapolis or Montreal, so you’d think cold and snowy would be default winter here. But those locations lie in the middle of a continent. Portland is seventy miles from the moderating influence of the Pacific Ocean, which brings damp but mild air into the area through the winter months. In order for us to get a true winter storm the conditions have to be just right: We have to be getting some cold air from east of the Cascades, funnelled through the the Columbia Gorge. This happens on average a couple times a winter. And that was the recipe that we encountered on Thursday February 11th. The day was cold but not freezing yet, a cold rain to start off. As the day progressed, the influence of the cold air became stronger: the temperature dropped, the water became icy. But there wasn’t really any snow yet. That wasn’t to happen until nightfall.

I awoke on Friday February 12th to a good couple inches of snow on the ground. And it was still coming down, despite the prediction that there would be a respite from precipitation during the day. I thought about shoveling, but it was still coming down, so I waited it out. I walked to the store in the later afternoon. It wasn’t the most fun of walks, as the wind from the east was stiff, blowing ice pellets into my face.

The snow had stopped by the morning of Saturday February 13th. There was at least a good half-foot of snow on the ground, the most I had seen since that storm in 2017. Shoveling wasn’t easy, as there was an ice crust on top of the snow. But shovel I did. Emee and I did an afternoon walk around the neighborhood. It was pretty, and lots of people were enjoying the snow. (Except for the BMW we saw stuck in the middle of the road!)

Sunday brought the dreaded freezing rain. Emee and I had to make it across town do to family obligation. By evening the constant freezing rain had built up a pretty good ice layer atop the snow. We survived, using grippers on shoes and hiking poles. The MAX was running on the way out, but unceremoniously quit before our return, so we had to walk even further to catch a bus.

And now as I’m writing this blog post it’s mid-day on Monday February 15th. There’s still snow on the ground, but the temperature is above freezing, and is going to stay that way through the night. The Great Thaw has started in earnest. And not a moment too soon, not just because I don’t particularly like this weather, but that the ice storm has knocked out power to much of the city. (Thankfully, my house is okay, knock on wood.) I didn’t leave the house.

And yes, this is about as much snow/real winter I feel like dealing with. Some winters I’m more into having some snow (for example I was pretty into Snowpocalypse 2008 for about half of it), some winters I’m fine with nothing. I was hoping for something this year, but not this much, and especially not this late in the season. Mid-February is when we get the first pangs of spring around these parts. I saw some daffodil and crocuses blooming last week! I know some people love real winter to death, but I realize that it isn’t me, even if sometimes I have romantic notions of moving to places with snow on the ground all season.

I think a lot of my feelings on snow in Portland is how much I’m in the mood for the snow. As I said above, I was into Snowpocalypse 2008 for a bit because I was in the mood to. After the crappy experience with the snow/ice storm in 2004, I was ready: I had good winter clothes,* had decent boots, a set of grippies for the bottoms of the boots, and I got a studded tire for my Univega Safari three-speed conversion. I rode that bike with glee for the first week, and switched to bus/foot when the snow just got too deep.

I’ve done a bit of “snow biking” after that, but barely any at all over the past few years. For a while I haven’t had a bike ready for it. But the past few years I have: The Schwinn Heavy Duti is the designated snow bike. I’ve got a dedicated front wheel with a studded tire for it. All I need to do is swap wheels** and I’m ready to go. Three days into this winter weather, I haven’t done it. Why? Well, I don’t feel like it, to put it bluntly. Yes, I have pangs of “I should go out and snow bike”, especially when I will see the inevitable photos of other cyclists in Portland doing it, which makes me feel guilty and inadequate. But what am I trying to prove? Much of my past snow-biking was done because out of necessity: I had to get to work. Nowadays I don’t need to go anywhere, well, anywhere beyond walking distance anyway. And going on a crazy snow bike adventure around town was a lot more fun when you could pop in a cafe, restaurant, or bar for a bit to warm up and refuel. With pandemic, that’s not really an option for me, even if technically you can sit inside again.

Who knows, maybe I’ll get the urge and get out the Heavy Duti for a little riding before everything melts. I’ll probably have to do it for a little bit, as the snow will probably not be fully gone until mid-week. For now, I’m more content being inside and watching the snow out the window. And to all you hardy souls who get out there in real winter all the time, I salute you.

For my reports of Portland snow through the years, click here. For some photos and drawings about this snow, see the dynamic flickr album below or click here.

Journal Comic, 10 Feb 2021. Impending snow.

*You’d think that since I come from Connecticut I’d understand the whole “dressing for winter” thing. Nope. During my teens, it just meant throwing on the heavy jacket or coat. And since I drove everywhere, I was outside for just short bits of time. And I was 100% not into winter sports. Since I moved to Portland I’ve spent a lot more time outdoors, especially on the bike. This has given me more knowledge about concepts like layering.

**This is the main reason why I have not gotten a dynamo hub wheel for the Heavy Duti, instead relying on sidewall bottle dynamo.

3 thoughts on “A Portland Snow Event, 11-15 Feb 2021

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  1. We got a pretty heavy snow here this week, more than a foot. It’s also below freezing. It hasn’t been fun. But this is far better than the winters I grew up with in northern Indiana, where Lake Michigan routinely dumped 100 inches of snow on us every winter. It’s less severe up there now — a mere 60 or so inches every winter. We get about 1/3 that in central Indiana.

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