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County leaders planning public meetings, outreach to be more ready for heavy snow

CENTRAL OREGONIAN FILE PHOTO - Heavy snowfall last winter took its toll on the Woodgrain Millwork facility as well as another local business.

Lessons learned from the extremely snowy past winter, as well as the recent eclipse, have prompted local leaders to start preparing for this winter early.

Snowfall data reveals that Crook County saw more snow by mid-January last winter than all other winters on record. Four consecutive storms had dumped a total of about 26 inches of snow, exceeding the 1950 winter, when 22.7 inches had fallen by Jan. 17.

The heavy snow caused roof collapses at the Woodgrain Millwork facility as well as a local restaurant. In addition, the Juniper Acres subdivision west of Prineville and two Prineville Lake Acres subdivisions in Juniper Canyon received enough snow that residents struggled to leave their homes for basic supplies or medical emergencies.

To help residents, the county asked the Oregon governor to declare a state of emergency, but the state required payment for its resources beyond what the county could afford. So the county instead did its best to handle the issue with its own manpower and equipment.

Early long-term weather forecasts are calling for a winter similar to last year. But this time, the county hopes to be more prepared, and emergency personnel have already begun making plans to reach out to citizens.

"We want to identify upfront people who may need a little more assistance in getting snow removal done so that they can get in and out of their property, or at least get it off of their roof and mitigate the amount of ice dams," said Vicky Ryan, emergency preparedness coordinator with Crook County Health Department. "It just snuck up on us and kept piling up last year, and that is what caused the majority of the roof cave-ins."

Ryan said the county wants to encourage residents to start considering more frequent snow removal — "an early and often type of awareness." To that end, the local officials are planning to reach out to the public soon with suggestions on how to prepare early for snow removal as well as supply storage.

"FEMA always says two weeks (of supplies should be stored in the home) but in the tri-county area, we are suggesting 30 days," Ryan said.

The outreach effort might also include one or more public meetings, where people are invited to show up and learn how they can better prepare for a winter of heavy snowfall.

To help county residents avoid getting trapped on their property, county staff members plan to contact local subdivision residents and homeowner association boards and encourage them to develop a snow removal plan.

"Juniper Acres was a big concern to us, so going into this next winter, we want to start potentially getting together with those HOA boards," Ryan said. She added that Crook County Road Master Bob O'Neal is reaching out to HOA board members in the Prineville Lake Acres neighborhoods early.

"If the snow hits hard and fast, how are you going to support your neighborhood?"

While the possibility of a winter similar to the last makes preparation critical, Ryan said the county would probably take action regardless of what the winter forecast looked like. She noted that the county prepared early and often for the solar eclipse, which left community leaders better equipped to handle whatever came from the event.

"One big positive takeaway we all have coming out of that planning process is start early, plan often, meet often and get your plans in place before anything happens," she said.

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