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Storm Finally Begins To Loosen Its Grip

Graduation pushed back a week

It's a storm that is having trouble letting go.

When the snow stopped dumping around Jan. 7 and weather forecasts called for warming, residents of the area thought the big storm might be just about over. Instead, however, freezing rain came late on Jan. 7 and continued off and on over the next two days. Although roads were plowed and passable, motorists had to spend quite a bit of time scraping a hard layer of ice from their windshields before going anywhere.

Many local businesses closed for a day or two during the height of the bad weather last week, and both White Salmon and Bingen canceled their City Council meetings.

The White Salmon School District was closed for five days straight.

Schools finally got back to having classes on Jan. 12, although even then conditions forced the school district to start classes two hours later than normal.

"We haven't had any buses running into ditches," said Dale Palmer, superintendent of the White Salmon Valley School District. "We're back up and running. Hopefully winter is just about over."

According to Palmer, the lost week of classes will push the school year deeper into June.

"We have two built-in snow days, Feb. 13 and March 12. We'll be working those," Palmer said, "and we'll have to tack three days on in June."

Palmer said at this point, school was expected to run until June 16.

"State law calls for 180 days of school," Palmer explained. "We'll have to move high school graduation from June 5 to June 12. If we miss more than two more days, that will push it into another week, and graduation would have to be moved again."

In addition to the extended school year, Palmer pointed out that the built-in semester break day has been switched from Jan. 26 to Feb. 2.

With Interstate 84 and State Route 14 closed to the west for parts of three days, even the U.S. mail was not getting through. Since trucks could not get in, the post office did not have any mail deliveries on Jan. 7 or Jan. 8, and no outgoing mail moved.

"Our mail comes from Portland, and no mail was received Wednesday or Thursday," said Ken Block, postmaster at the White Salmon post office.

Block said he was hopeful that deliveries would be back to normal by Tuesday, Jan. 13.

"That's our goal," Block said. "The main issue is just getting it here. Another problem we have is delivery. It takes carriers a good two hours longer just to drive the routes."

Block, who started working for the post office in 1981, said weather conditions like the area has been experiencing over the past couple weeks once were common.

"This used to be pretty typical," explained Block. "When I was first postmaster, this type of event happened once or twice a winter. But two days is the longest we've gone without mail."

Block reminded residents of the importance of keeping the roadway near mailboxes relatively free of snow, because mail carriers cannot leave their vehicles to wade into snowbanks to deliver the mail.

"The approach has to be cleared," Block said.

Underwood resident Les Donaldson estimated that he got three feet of snow where he lives, but he remembers it being a lot deeper.

"It's been worse," Donaldson said. "In '79-'80 we had seven feet up here."

Donaldson has a Boss snowplow blade on his Chevrolet four-wheel drive pickup truck, and has stayed busy in recent days.

"It works really slick as long as you don't get too far into the snowbank and get the blade stuck," Donaldson said. "The worst part is finding a place to put the snow."

Although it warmed up a bit, temperatures remained stuck in the mid-20s most of last week.

Stacked up snow has created a new local landmark in White Salmon: There is now a virtual mountain of snow, at least 15 feet high, in the Thriftway parking lot.

On Jan. 9, miserable conditions completely closed SR 14 from the Bridge of the Gods to Washougal.

"The main problem along the Columbia River Gorge is the strong winds blowing snow drifts across the highway," read a statement from the Washington Department of Transportation.

On Jan. 9, the Washington State Patrol reported that over the five-day period from Jan. 4-Jan. 8, officers responded to a total of 508 collisions in a five-county area that included Klickitat, Skamania, Clark, Lewis, and Cowlitz counties.

"It looks like we have had at least seven patrol cars in the district damaged by approaching drivers losing control and colliding with the patrol car at collision scenes," added WSP Trooper Garvin March. "No troopers have been injured."

Several businesses in downtown White Salmon had to deal with frozen pipes and no water, including new White Salmon Mayor Linda Jones' business, Tassels & Doorknobs, on East Jewett Boulevard. Mayor Jones was among several downtown White Salmon businesses having to do without water due to frozen pipes. Ron Logan Insurance and The Enterprise office were also without water for three days.

"There are a lot of people with frozen pipes," Jones said.

Jones added that the city was handling the weather situation well.

"The city crews are doing a good job. They're working a lot on all the little emergencies that come up," Jones said. "We haven't seen any major problems."

However, Jones pointed out that there were two broken water lines in the city on Friday, and crews from the city's Public Works Department were having to work outdoors in bitter conditions to repair the pipelines.

To help the local bird population through the snow-covered freeze, local citizens snapped up the bird seed, which quickly led to empty shelves. Area stores ran out of seed early last week, and the treacherous roads kept most trucks from coming in with more supplies.

"There was no freight this week," said an employee of Hi-School Pharmacy.

Power outages were another offshoot of the cold weather. On Friday, Jan. 9, electricity temporarily cut out from the Bald Mountain area north of White Salmon all the way to Trout Lake when the Gilmer Substation lost power at about 12:45 p.m. Crews restored power to all affected customers by 3:40 p.m.

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