Pacific Northwest thaws after freak snowstorms

PORTLAND, Ore. — The big melt has begun.

Temperatures rose above 40 degrees in many Pacific Northwest cities Monday, slowly erasing the snow and ice that accumulated during a freak trifecta of storms that struck Oregon and southwest Washington. Speeding the melting process will be rain that’s expected to soak the region all week.

The snow that began falling Thursday contributed to at least five deaths and disrupted schools, businesses, transportation and government offices. Authorities were still investigating the deaths of an elderly couple found buried in the snow over the weekend in their driveway in central Oregon.

Roads remained a slippery, slushy mess early Monday, keeping many kids out of school for another day. But routines slowly returned to normal, with traffic returning to streets that were largely deserted for days.

“The temperature is our friend,” Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish said.

National Weather Service hydrologist Andy Bryant said a strong system could drop an inch of rain on Portland late Tuesday, and the persistent precipitation could cause some river flooding by the weekend. A relatively dry winter, however, had rivers at low levels before the storms, and Bryant said it was too early to pinpoint where flooding might occur.

“The whole Pacific Northwest is going to get a dose of this,” he said of the heavy rain. “Some days it’s going to be more focused in western Washington, other days it’s going to be more focused in northwest Oregon, and other days more focused in southwest Oregon. But it’s going to be pretty wet everywhere.”

As lower elevations get soaked by rain, the forecast calls for snowpack-boosting storms for the Olympics, Cascades and mountains of eastern Washington.

Last week’s storms dumped anywhere from a few inches to more than a foot of snow on communities in western Oregon and southwest Washington that rarely see it. Farther north, 3 inches fell in Seattle, the city’s heaviest snowfall in two years.

In Deschutes County, authorities were investigating the deaths of Henry Constable, 83, and Brooke Constable, 69, who were found Saturday buried in the snow west of Sisters. The bodies were near each other on an unplowed driveway between the couple’s car and home.

Patrol Sgt. Vance Lawrence of the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office said the car got stuck in the snow about a quarter of a mile away and the pair were “fairly close” to home when they died. A deputy who discovered the bodies said the snow was up to his waist, Lawrence said.

Investigators do not suspect foul play. But the causes of death have not been determined, and the investigation is not over.

“A long driveway, trudging through the snow, it takes a lot out of a person,” Lawrence said.

In nearby Bend, a 61-year-old man collapsed and died while shoveling snow. He was identified as Tim Lillebo, a field representative for the environmental group Oregon Wild.

The storms also caused at least two fatal car crashes, one in southwest Washington and another near Oregon’s Rooster Rock State Park.

Police on both sides of the Columbia River responded to hundreds of accidents. In Seattle, King County troopers investigated more than 200 collisions during the weekend and impounded 47 vehicles.

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