In early February 2014, western Oregon was hit with a tremendous snowstorm. Over two days, I had the opportunity to experience it in two cities, and along the 68 miles that separate them. This is the story of that experience.
You’d have thought we lived in Westeros, the way the meteorologists were telling us that winter was coming.
I remember seeing Punxsutawney Phil on Feb. 2, too. Six more weeks of winter, he predicted.
When I went to bed on Feb. 5, I was confident that it would all be hokum.
Then I woke up at 5:40 a.m. on Feb. 6.
After seeing live video on KPTV of the snow falling in Albany, I left my home in Salem, driving my Ford Focus, at 6:20 a.m.
I went through Albany at 6:45 a.m. The snow had been accumulating for only a little while at that point, and I-5 between Albany and Eugene was still clear of snow when I passed it by.
I arrived in Eugene at 7:30 a.m. The snow was coming down at that point — big fluffy flakes.
I had two classes, at 8:30 and noon, at the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication in Allen Hall, and three interviews scheduled for the day: at 1:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. in Eugene and another at 5 p.m. back in Salem.
I made it to my first class.
Between 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m., I learned that a meeting I had planned on attending Friday night was actually taking place on Thursday night — this night — at 7 p.m. I quickly realized that I would need to reschedule the interview I was supposed to have in Salem.
FYI: It’s easier to reschedule an interview than to reschedule a West University Neighborhood Association meeting.
Also during that time — in fact, while I was writing and receiving the rescheduling emails — my wife, who had been watching KTPV’s all-day weather report, called to inform me of a 20-vehicle crash just outside Albany.
It’s worth noting that that was the first time she mentioned my possibly needing to stay in Eugene for the night.
At 11:53 a.m., just before my noon class, I received the email that then confirmed the cancellation of the 7 p.m. meeting.
During my J205/6 class, I watched out the window as the snow began to fall in earnest.
If there had been any question before, it was definitively answered then: Winter had indeed arrived.
Thanks a lot, Phil.
The class let out at 1:20 p.m. My first interview was with a CommUniversity Assistant in the Emerald offices, and my second was at a DHS office in north Eugene.
The first ended by 2:20 p.m. I had 40 minutes to get to my Ford and navigate Coburg Road.
Anyone who was driving on Coburg between 2:30 and 4 p.m. will remember what that looked like. Eugene was a snow globe.
I was slipping all over the place, but I made it safely. And after the final interview, I set my sights on getting back to Salem.
My wife, on the other hand, was strongly opposed to that plan.
Having no chains, and considering the accidents that already had occurred — not to mention the current snowing conditions — she ended up reserving a room for me at the Campus Inn on East Broadway.
Her mind was made up, it seemed. I would be staying the night in Eugene.
My only possessions were what I was wearing and a backpack full of what I had taken to class that day: my cell, a Kodak digital camera, my Mac, a recorder, three notebooks, a media ethics textbook, an umbrella, and one canteen of water.
Around 4:25 p.m., after checking into the hotel, I grabbed my laptop, my camera, and my phone with the plan of heading to the UO student services office to get some essentials.
I was unaware that many faculty and staff had left at 4 p.m.
After meeting Devin Ryan Ream at Riley, we went to the EMU and looked for answers at the information desk. The guy at the desk sent us to Oregon Hall.
By the time we got there, it was 4:45 p.m. and the door was locked.
Devin knocked, and the woman who answered encouraged us to head over to University Housing because the staff at the Office for the Dean of Students had all gone home for the evening.
The young lady at the University Housing desk informed me that there was nothing she could do for my situation regarding a toothbrush or any other basic amenities at that time, suggesting that I return the following morning. She also gave me the phone number for Emergency Management & Continuity and sent me on my way.
At 4:55 p.m. I spoke with Emma Stocker from the EMC who took my information with the promise that she would get me in touch with the dean of students by 7:30 p.m.
There was just one problem with that: my phone was rapidly dying.
In my rush to leave Salem that morning, I hadn’t packed my cell phone charger. I ended up sitting in Allen Hall from 5 to about 7:30 p.m., watching KPTV’s live internet stream while my phone charged on one of the recharging stations.
Thanks for those, by the way.
It was during this time that Devin remarked that I, all the while dreading to think that I might need to stay another night in Eugene, was receiving a veritable torrent of bad news from the local media.
The entire Willamette Valley was experiencing a Snowpocalypse of sorts. It was even stretching into SW Washington.
There had been wrecks and fatalities – one disaster after another.
My hopes of getting home before my one pair of boxer-briefs gave out were becoming grim. And I still didn’t have a toothbrush.
At 7:20 p.m., I called Emma back.
She explained that my information was now in the hands of Paul Shang, the dean of students for the University, and that I could expect a phone call from him shortly.
Emma did exactly what she said she would, and I owe her thanks.
At 7:30 p.m., Devin and I went to Taylor’s, where we were joined by two other students.
At 8 p.m, Shang called and asked me to explain my situation.
I told him that I’d paid for a hotel for the night, but that I might need accommodations for the following evening. He said he would make it happen. He made sure to ask if I felt comfortable and safe with my choice of hotel before stating that he would contact me at some point on Friday.
The four of us had dinner and a couple of beers before being driven back out into the cold by Thursday night’s karaoke performances at 9:10 p.m.
I was in my hotel room and asleep by 10:45 p.m.
After getting up and peering out the window to a snowless sky, I checked my email for any class cancellations.
Sure enough, my J205/6 Lab was to be unofficially canceled.
I immediately called my wife and told her that I was coming home.
After allowing my ice-cube-on-wheels to warm up, I drove to the O’Reilly’s on west 11th and bought chains and a pair of gloves for $47, which was less than the cost of another night in Eugene by my reckoning.
By 9 a.m., the snow was again falling thick in Eugene.
I put the chains on, grabbed a two-shot Carmelizer from Dutch Bros. Coffee on West 7th, and hit the freeway at a top speed of 30 mph.
At 9:24 a.m., just as I was leaving Eugene, the UO announced that campus classes and events were canceled for the day.
What would become day two of the greatest winter storm the Willamette Valley has seen since 2008 had just begun.
The trip was slow and uneventful, save for the incredible amount of snow that was falling.
I had to pull over in Albany, where it seemed that the storm had hit the hardest, at 11:15 a.m. because my windshield wipers had frozen and I couldn’t see.
There had been so much accumulation that I felt as though I were driving a little Ford plow on the snowy Albany streets.
It was an amazing transition from the sleepy town I blew through at 70-plus mph a little more than 24 hours earlier. Now, I could barely exceed 35 mph before Ol’ Reliable would start to rattle and shake.
After resuming the freeway, it only took me another 40 minutes to get home.
During my 2.5-hour trek from Eugene to Salem, I saw 12 vehicles in either the median or the ditches on the sides of the road.
I passed huge chunks of various vehicles – parts that had broken off in fender benders and wrecks. At one point I saw an entire tail light, it’s glowing red plastic sticking out of the white powder.
It was like traveling through a snow-swept war zone.
As I passed the Kuebler Boulevard exit in Salem, there was a miles-long line of gridlocked cars trying to go south on I-5.
I wanted to say, “You really don’t want to go that way.” But then I thought of my family – my wife and kids – and I figured that if any of them were trying to get home, who was I to say otherwise?
I pulled into my driveway at 12:28 p.m.
I hadn’t noticed during the drive, but Shang got back to me at 11:05 a.m. about a room on campus that I could stay in for another evening.
The chain mail I received from him identified a number of people who all were working to provide accommodations for other UO students, faculty, and staff who were stranded in Eugene as well.
Good on you, UO. Though I didn’t end up needing the help, I sincerely appreciate the care you were willing to provide.
It reminded me of being back at Chemeketa Community College.
As anyone in the Willamette Valley will remember, it continued to snow throughout the rest of the day.
It didn’t stop snowing in Salem until 9 p.m.
I saw the Snowpocalypse first hand across many miles of western Oregon during two long days. While many folks sat in their nice warm homes and watched it on TV or out their windows, there were many others who traversed it.
Some made it to their destinations. Some didn’t.
Westeros, indeed; and I-5 was the King’s Road.
I got lucky, though. I was able to tell this story while sitting right where it all began: in my bed.
My heart goes out to those who lost loved ones during this storm.