Snow flexed its muscles Friday in the Rogue Valley, closing schools and government buildings, canceling sporting events and turning roads into ski runs.
The snow came from an Arctic front that drifted out over the Pacific and gathered up moisture before heading back inland. Combined with a stagnant cold-air mass over the region, conditions were primed for a white weekend.
Temperatures are expected to drop into record-breaking single digits tonight and Sunday, but snowfall should have died out early this morning, according to the National Weather Service.
Before heading to snow country, make sure your breaks, windshield wipers, defroster, heater and exhaust system are in top condition. You may want to add special solvent to your windshield washer reservoir to prevent icing.
Keep your windshield and windows clear. Stop at a safe turnout to use a snow brush or scraper if necessary.
Check your antifreeze and be ready for colder temperatures. Check your tires to make sure they are properly inflated and the tread is in good condition.
Carry tire chains/traction devices if traveling at higher elevations. Make sure they are the proper size for your tires and are in working order. Make sure you know if your vehicle is front or rear wheel drive. Chains must be installed on the drive wheels. Also bring a flashlight and chain repair links.
Keep your gas tank full. It may be necessary to change routes or turn back during a bad storm, or you may be caught in a traffic delay. Spin outs and accidents can block roadways for several hours.
Slow down. A highway speed of 66 or 65 miles an hour may be safe in dry weather, but not on snow or ice. Bridge decks and shady spots are often icy in inclement weather.
Leave plenty of stopping distance between your vehicle and the next. Avoid sudden stops. Be more observant. Visibility is often limited in winter weather.
When stalled, stay with your vehicle and try to conserve fuel while maintaining warmth. Be alert to any possible exhaust or carbon monoxide dangers.
"There might be some flurries, some stuff floating around in the morning, but nothing that will add up," said meteorologist Brian Nieuwenhuis. "Sunday morning we're going to be well into the single digits."
Snow amounts varied around the county Friday. Prospect and Williams reported 2 inches by the early afternoon, and no updated reports were available from the weather service late Friday.
At 7 p.m. Friday, six inches of new snow was reported in Grants Pass and five inches in Medford and Ashland. Four inches of new snow fell at Crater Lake by 10:30 a.m. Friday, weather officials said, expecting at least four more inches over last night.
"A lot of places are getting what we thought," Nieuwenhuis said.
At 4 p.m. Friday, there was five inches of new snow on the Siskiyou Summit and chains were required on all vehicles on Interstate-5 there. Mt. Ashland reported three inches of new snow on its website, Friday evening.
As of 4:30 p.m. Friday, 100 vehicle crashes had been reported on state highways in Jackson and Josephine counties, said Gary Leaming, spokesperson for the Oregon Department of Transportation.
"And that doesn't include all the spin outs that weren't reported," Leaming said.
Emergency Communications of Southern Oregon reported 24 car accidents between 8:30 a.m. and 3 p.m., according to event logs.
Snow fall kicked into high gear at about 3 p.m., and started blanketing the Rogue Valley and ODOT dispatch was swamped after the storm landed, Leaming said.
At 6 p.m. Friday, there was a dispatch report that no tow trucks were available throughout the entire Rogue Valley.
"The big issue is just the freezing ... the snow that has fallen on the ground is just going to turn into ice," Leaming said, Friday evening.
Leaming said he expected the number of reported crashes to continue climbing until today.
"I think the first storm of the year does kind of bring out the worst driving behavior," he said. "With this particular storm, we're getting snow in the valley on a Friday afternoon during the commuting time. We're seeing a lot of congestions right now."
Throughout last night and early this morning, ODOT had 25 plows, sanders and de-icers, working state roads between Grants Pass and Ashland. Two of those vehicles are plows that came to support the Rogue Valley effort from the Diamond Lake and Crater Lake area, he said.
"We're running every unit that we have," he said. "Up on Siskiyou we've been keeping up. ... We're keeping our fingers crossed."
One ODOT plow applying de-icer was involved in a rollover accident on Interstate 5 near Azalea, Leaming said. An impatient U-Haul truck driver attempting to pass the plow in the northbound lanes caused a multi-car pileup and caused the plow driver to lose control of the vehicle and roll into the ditch uninjured, Leaming said.
"There is a whole unit that we lost due to driver negligence," Leaming said, warning drivers to "slow down and drive to the conditions."
Early Friday, the northbound and southbound lanes of Interstate 5 were closed for over an hour 14 miles south of Cottage Grove, because of a fertilizer-hauling semi that caught fire and heavy snow, ODOT reported.
The Jackson County Roads Department also had its full plowing and sanding crew at work, the Jackson County Sheriff's Department reported.
The county dispatched nine trucks with both plows and sanders on them, as well as five trucks with just plows, which worked until 7 p.m. Friday. Two additional emergency crews worked until early this morning and all 14 trucks were back on the road at 4 a.m. Because roads were so treacherously slippery, Brammo Inc. welcomed commercial truck drivers and others in need to park their vehicles and stay overnight at their Talent headquarters, the former Walmart building just off Interstate 5 Exit 21.
Brammo director of operations Joe Wismann said the company was happy to lend a hand to motorists looking to avoid the slick roads.
Several Rogue Valley school districts canceled classes Friday, including Medford, Phoenix/Talent, Ashland, Central Point, Rogue River and Grants Pass. Sacred Heart Catholic School, Logos Charter School, as well as Grace and Cascade Christian schools also closed.
Performances at the Craterian and Camelot theaters were cancelled, and the Rogue Valley Symphony cancelled its performance in Grants Pass.
Victorian Christmas tours at Jacksonville's Historic Beekman House and Mrs. Beekman's Christmas Bazaar are also canceled today.
All Jackson County Child Development Services locations were closed, and preschool, therapy, individual and evaluation programs were canceled. Rogue Community College closed all area campuses at 4 p.m. The Josephine County Courthouse and Grants Pass City Hall both closed up shop at about 2 p.m.
SAT tests hosted by St. Mary's School in Medford that were planned for today have been canceled and rescheduled for Dec. 21.
The weather also canceled several local hockey and basketball matchups for Rogue Valley high schools and Southern Oregon University teams.
The season-opening boys basketball games for South Medford and North Medford will have to wait until next week, as home games against Wilson scheduled for this weekend were postponed.
Wilson, of Portland, couldn't make the trip due to weather. It was to play at South Friday night and at North today.
Check www.mailtribune.com today for updated snow amounts across Southern Oregon.