December 21, 2008 in Region

New storm wallops Northwest

I-90, I-84 closed overnight
Associated Press
 
Ted Warren photo

ORG XMIT: WATW201 Photographer Anthony Evora uses an umbrella to keep falling snow off of his camera Saturday, Dec. 20, 2008, as he takes pictures of winter scenes near the Space Needle in Seattle. The winter beauty was also expected to bring hardship to the area Saturday night as high winds, freezing rain and heavy snow were forecast for most of Western Washington. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

SEATTLE (AP) — A fierce winter storm blew in from the Pacific with up to 2 feet of snow and icy wind, creating a nightmare for holiday travelers already stymied by winter’s fury across the northern half of the country.

Snow, sleet and freezing rain caused treacherous driving conditions throughout the Pacific Northwest. Sections of two major highways — Interstate 84 in Oregon east of Portland, and Interstate 90 in Washington — were closed overnight into Sunday and authorities urged people not to drive unless it was an emergency.

“It is extremely dangerous to be on the roads at this time,” said Multnomah County Deputy Paul McRedmond, sheriff’s spokesman.

Centralia, about 25 miles south of Olympia, had already received 9 inches Saturday night. The Seattle area was predicted to get 4 to 8 inches, and early Sunday had a wind chill of 15, the national Weather Service said.

“It’ll be nasty well into Sunday evening,” said Jonathan Wolfe, a weather service meteorologist.

A blizzard warning was posted for parts of the Columbia River Gorge between the two states.

Authorities closed a 45-mile stretch of Interstate 84 from the Portland suburb of Troutdale to East River, Ore., and Interstate 90 across Snoqualmie Pass in the Cascade Range, Washington’s main east-west roadway. There was no indication how long the highways would be closed.

The storm striking the Northwest on the first official day of winter was the third major cold-weather system to punch the country in two days. Northeasterners, many still recovering from an ice storm earlier in the week, dug out Saturday from several inches of snow the night before, and Midwesterners coped with weekend blizzard conditions.

Blizzard warnings were in effect Sunday for parts of northern Illinois, Iowa and southern Minnesota, the weather service said.

Homeless people filled shelters in Chicago, where the Sunday morning low was 6 below zero, with a wind chill down to about 29 below. Jennifer Martinez of the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communication said social service workers went out to check on people living on the streets and the elderly who live alone.

Parts of Michigan had gotten 13 inches of snow from the latest storm.

As of Saturday, the December snowfall total in Bismarck, N.D., nearly equaled the 19.3-inch accumulation for of all last winter, said weather service meteorologist Joshua Scheck.

“The thing about North Dakota is that it’s extreme,” Scheck said. “For several years we haven’t had an aggressive winter like this.”

“If you get caught in this stuff, it really is life-threatening,” said Dan Miller, science and operations officer at the weather service in Duluth, Minn.

Authorities warned that the latest storm could deliver a wallop as it moved eastward, potentially causing new power outages.

Gov. John Lynch of New Hampshire, where more than 20,000 homes and businesses were still in the dark Saturday, noted the long wait and the threat of further power failures, with a chance of up to 16 inches of snow forecast for the southern part of the state.

“I continue to hear frustration from the local communities regarding communication with the utilities, and I share their frustration,” he said.

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Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers William McCall and Tim Fought in Portland, Ore.; Amy Lorentzen in Des Moines, Iowa; James MacPherson in Bismarck, N.D.; James A. Carlson in Milwaukee; and David Tirrell-Wysocki in Concord, N.H.

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