{gallery rows=2 cols=1 width=250 height=250 crop=1}{/gallery}It’s still February, so no one should have been too surprised the region experienced a substantial snowfall late last week. But after a relatively mild winter, most people were probably not prepared for the icy punch that hammered the area starting Feb. HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: DOUG BURKHARDT - Snow and ice plagued TriMet during the storm. Snow clogged automatic switches essential to the operation of the light rail system, so maintenance crews were required to manually throw the switches around the network. On Friday, TriMet workers were assisting this MAX train coming into the Hatfield Transit Center in downtown Hillsboro.

Motorists experienced the biggest impact, as cars that usually moved fine on area roads suddenly were slipping, sliding and sometimes spinning as tires tried to find traction where there wasn’t any after several inches of snow blew into the state Thursday.

More snow fell in Hillsboro Friday and Saturday, with temperatures in the low 20s and strong wind gusts adding to the mix.

A winter storm warning was first issued Feb. 6, and then again for a period stretching from Friday at 2 p.m. until Saturday at 11 a.m. On Friday afternoon, snow started falling again, and another 2 to 3 inches were reported around the HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTOS: DOUG BURKHARDT - On Friday morning, a no-nonsense crew appeared at the Walters Cultural Arts Center and, with blowers and shovels, quickly cleared all the sidewalks and ramps leading to and from the facility.

The storm “will make travel dangerous ... only travel in an emergency,” read a portion of a Thursday warning from the National Weather Service. “Expect treacherous driving during the afternoon commute.” Blowing and drifting snow were also expected to reduce visibility.

Predictably, the wintry weather resulted in numerous car accidents.

“We did have 25 crashes Thursday (Feb. 6) of the fender-bender sort — no injuries,” said Lt. Mike Rouches, spokesman for the Hillsboro Police Department. “Today (Friday) we have been free of crashes due to the lack of cars on the road. No real trouble spots to report, just advising people to stay in unless they have to venture out, and drive slowly!”

Rouches pointed out, however, that despite the many automobile accidents from the slick weather, there was something positive mixed in.

“The good news is that during these weather events, crime is down,” Rouches said. “Our officers are getting around well, and we are not experiencing delays in getting to calls for service.”

Snow began to fall at a fast pace at around 11 a.m. Thursday, and by that afternoon activities in Hillsboro started shutting down. Classes in the Hillsboro School District were dismissed early, and by Thursday evening — with more snow in the forecast — officials decided to cancel Friday classes as well. Government offices also closed, including the WorkSource Oregon centers, the Washington County Museum and the area’s libraries — including the Hillsboro Main Library.

Even the Intel D1X construction project was forced to halt activities Friday through Monday due to the weather.

During the worst of the conditions, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office pleaded with the public to stay off the roads for everyone’s sake.

“The Sheriff’s Office strongly recommends that drivers use chains or other traction control devices on their vehicles if they travel. The best advice is to not drive unless absolutely necessary,” read a WCSO statement issued Friday at 3:15 p.m.

At least one Oregon Department of Transportation official was longing for Oregon’s typical wet weather by Feb. 8.

“We’re not done with this storm yet,” Jason Tell, regional manager for the Oregon Department of Transportation, said Saturday afternoon. “The more people stay home and stay off the roads, the more ODOT maintenance crews can get their work done. If we all have patience for just another day or two, we’ll get back to our familiar rainy winter.”

TriMet had its maintenance crews in high gear through the weekend as snow clogged switches essential to the operation of the light rail system.

“We’ve had periodic issues with switches getting clogged,” explained Roberta Altstadt, public information officer for TriMet. “Usually the switches are automatic, but when this type of weather happens the switch heaters are getting overwhelmed from all the snow so we have crews out there manually switching.”

Altstadt said there were maintenance crews all around the transit system working to keep operations running as smoothly as possible.

“This is definitely not an off day for us,” she said. “All our drivers and crews are out there in these conditions keeping the operation going, and our riders have been very understanding and very patient, and we really appreciate that.”

Altstadt said there were delays in the system, but — at least until Saturday afternoon — everything was running.

“We’re trying to keep the frequency going. We have buses on chains all day, so they run slower; they can’t go more than 25,” she explained Friday. “Our philosophy is ‘safety over schedule.’ We won’t put riders or operators in harm’s way.”

On Saturday afternoon, the onslaught of snow and ice overwhelmed TriMet’s ability to keep everything running on time. At least eight bus lines were canceled, and at 7:40 p.m., the agency released a dire announcement: “All MAX lines are stopping due to significant weather-related issues,” read a news release from Mary Fetsch of TriMet. “We are currently moving any train we can to a platform to allow passengers to get off. We are currently dispatching buses to transport riders.”

Some service was back by Sunday at noon, but operations were not considered fully restored until Sunday at 5:30 p.m., about 22 hours after MAX service was halted.

With conditions not improving significantly by late Sunday, at 6 p.m. Hillsboro school officials canceled all of Monday’s classes and activities.

Students seemed to love that aspect of the storm.

“Usually we don’t get a lot of snow, so it’s pretty cool to see and do something new,” said Cooper Schwehr, a junior at Century High School. “Most of the time off I spent out in the snow with my friends. Snowball fights and sledding was my life for the past couple of days.”

Despite plenty of minor snags, the city of Hillsboro reported no serious troubles as a result of the weather.

“We were all prepared for it,” said Bob Sanders, assistant director of the city’s Public Works Department. “We got our plows out and de-iced the roads the night before, and have been coordinating with the county.”

The city’s snowplow drivers worked 12-hour shifts Thursday through Monday in an effort to keep the city’s roadways clear.

“All three plows — everything we’ve got — are out around the clock,” said Tiffany Bral, spokeswoman for the department. “We’re working 24 hours to get everything cleared. We’re plowing and sanding at the same time, and everything seems to be going pretty well.”

Bral added that Friday was better than Thursday because there was a lot less traffic.

“We didn’t have all the traffic jams and snarls from everyone leaving work and school early that we had on Thursday,” she said.

By Monday afternoon, the community was getting back to normal.

“It dropped off substantially as people stayed home,” said Rouches. “Saturday we had just three crashes, and none Sunday or Monday related to weather. The main streets are great to travel on. Side streets are still an issue, so we are advising folks to just take it slow and plan ahead.”

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