(Update: More details, comments from drivers, Oregon State Police)
Several inches of snow fall over wide area
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – A long-delayed blast of winter hit Bend and other parts of the High Desert on Friday, with several inches of snow leading to numerous crashes, rollovers and slide-offs, closing major highways at times.
“I’m very used to snow driving, I’ve got good tires -- and this is probably one of the worst I’ve ever seen," Bend resident Ashley Adams said.
The National Weather Service let a winter weather advisory expire at 6 p.m., after a few to several inches fell over a wide area of the region, making good forecasters' warning of slick roads and difficult travel.
“The snow kind of came on overnight, and I was expecting to be able to get home without a whole lot of crashes. But it’s not been that way," Adams said.
For Bend and other locations, it was the first measurable snowfall in weeks, if not months.
Earlier, a freezing fog advisory was issued until 10 a.m. Friday, with patchy areas of freezing drizzle/mist and/or light freezing rain meaning slick roads as well.
Oregon State Police Trooper Travis Tillman said, “I think the severity of the storm was significantly worse than what we had anticipated and was forecasted initially. And the duration of the snow that has come down has increased as well.”
“This has been one the worst winter days I have worked, in one small period of time, all through Central Oregon," Tillman said.
Law enforcement, medics and tow trucks were scrambling to numerous vehicles that got stuck, crashed or went off the slick roads, including a Redmond school bus in a ditch at the corner of Highway 20 and Tweed Road west of Tumalo, prompting a call for a Class C tow truck.
That wasn't the only Redmond school bus to have trouble on slick roads Friday morning. Another Redmond bus, stopped at railroad tracks, was rear-ended by a pickup, school district spokeswoman Sheila Miller said. No students were on either bus and there were no injuries, she added.
One of the big early trouble spots was the grade on U.S. Highway 20 west of Tumalo, where ODOT TripCheck showed it was closed in both directions about 10 a.m. due to a multiple-vehicle crash. Two ODOT sanders were called out as first responders worked to clear the scene.
Highway 20 West was closed at Robal Road and the Old Bend-Redmond Highway until the crashes were cleared.
OSP Trooper Scott Sogge said 20 or more vehicles were involved in the crashes and slide-offs on Highway 20, eight to 10 of them semi-trucks, including driver Juan Duran.
"I saw him sliding," Duran said of the driver ahead of him. "I said, 'Obviously I'm going to stop.' It's slippery right there, where I stopped -- there was a car in front of me. That's where I started sliding sideways."
Later Friday morning, several more crashes and slide-offs closed state Highway 126 eight miles east of Sisters, in the area of milepost 100 and the Cline Falls Road bridge. OSP reported nine or 10 slide-offs and was turning vehicles around at midday.
ODOT Region 4 spokesman Peter Murphy said crews had traffic moving past the crashes and Highway 20 reopened before noon, with flaggers directing traffic. He said they would take similar steps to clean up and reopen Highway 126.
The snow tapered off at midday in some locations, but crashes still were being reported around the area and some law enforcement were urging people to stay home unless it was an emergency.
And the problems continued into the afternoon: About the time crews cleared and reopened Highway 126, a disabled vehicle closed Highway 97 two miles north of Terrebonne, late in the noon hour. (That took until late afternoon to clear).
At mid-afternoon, ODOT said a crossover crash closed both southbound lanes and the left ("fast") northbound lane of Highway 97 near milepost 125, about three miles south of Redmond. Those lanes reopened by about 4:30 p.m.
Redmond and Bend Fire medics responded to that two-vehicle crash just after 2 p.m., finding both vehicles with extensive damage. Two patients were removed from the wreckage and taken to St. Charles Bend, one with life-threatening injuries, Redmond Fire Captain Bill Welch said. He also noted that road and weather conditions slowed crews' response times.
Later Friday afternoon, another crash closed Highway 20 near milepost 94, six miles west of Sisters, and ODOT urged motorists to avoid the area if possible. It was open again before 5:30 p.m.
Earlier in the day, an NWS spotter 2 miles southeast of Bend reported three inches of snow by 7:30 a.m. Other weather spotters reported a half-inch to three inches of snow in the Bend area and lighter amounts around Sisters, La Pine, Madras and Prineville.
Several Bend residents on KTVZ's Facebook page reported having about three inches, if not four or more, while others reported six inches in Tumalo, three inches in Redmond, two inches at Crooked River Ranch, just over an inch in Prineville and two inches in the Juniper Canyon area, as it was still coming down.
Later Friday, a Tumalo resident reported (by tape measure) eight inches and a Terrebonne resident nine inches.
The Deschutes County Sheriff's Office warned of hazardous road conditions and said if drivers "have to be on the road, slow your speed" and allow extra time to get where you're going.
In another sign of COVID-19’s widespread impacts, NewsChannel 21 had received no details of any school or event closures, though Cascades East Transit announced it was shifting to snow schedules as of noon. (If you have any such updates you wish for us to share, please send to firstname.lastname@example.org or use the website’s Share tab.)