By Ben Jacklet
The Portland Tribune
Airport officials said they had no idea what they might do
differently to handle future calamitous ice storms after a
slew of canceled flights last week left thousands of travelers
weary and irritable.
Portland International Airport Director Steve Schreiber said
airport crews prepared properly for the weather and handled
it well, considering the magnitude and duration of the storm.
"When we're all done here, we'll go back and look at
whether we could have done anything differently," he
said. "But at this point, I truly don't know anything
that we would have done differently.
"We've played it by the textbook on how you keep pavements
clear. We have put down close to a half-million dollars' worth
of de-icing solutions. We have thrown everything we have at
the storm. It was just more ice over a longer period than
we've ever experienced. We've got 3,300 acres here to keep
cleared, and it's just a lot of territory to cover."
Weather experts said the ice storm was so powerful that it
made preparations futile.
"At some point, Mother Nature is going to win out over
any plan you make," said Steve Todd, meteorologist in
charge at the Portland office of the National Weather Service.
Todd said storms this severe hit Portland only every 30 years
Todd said the storm, which dumped freezing rain onto the
area from Tuesday afternoon through late Thursday morning,
produced far more ice than other cities typically have to
deal with during winter storms.
"Portland is one of the worst places in the country
for frequency of ice storms and for intensity of ice storms,"
he said. That's because the easterly winds of the Columbia
River Gorge "create this abnormally small, very cold
area that -doesn't move like a normal storm system,"
"You can have a very warm, moist storm go over this
area and drop significant amounts of rain into a freezing
layer. Any normal place, that storm would have brought the
temperatures above freezing. Not here, because you have the
gorge bringing cold air in from east of the mountains,"
The airport is restricted in the de-icing solutions it can
use because of state regulations that protect the nearby Columbia
Slough from contamination. But Schreiber said he didn't think
that was the issue last week.
"The solution we used typically works very well,"
he said. "We just got to the point where it just would
not penetrate the ice. I'm not sure that any other materials
would have worked better."
Todd said airport officials were in frequent contact with
the weather service in the days leading up to the storm.
"I know they were on top of it because I talked to them
many times. They were gearing up as well as they could, given
the resources they have."
Maintenance crews attacked the ice with de-icing solutions
and plowing around the clock, but as the freezing rain persisted,
the de-icer stopped penetrating the ice and the constant plowing
was making for a dangerously uneven surface.
De-icers ran short
Steve Johnson, a spokesman for the airport, said workers went
through more than 200 tons of solid de-icing materials and
100,000 gallons of liquids.
Because Portland seldom faces freezing temperatures, the
Port of Portland, which operates the airport, does not keep
huge volumes of de-icing solution on hand. Nor do the airlines,
which are responsible for de-icing their planes with four
or five different solutions. The port and the airlines need
to ship in extra material when a big storm hits, and that
was challenging last week, with the airport and Interstate
The airlines and the port both ran short on de-icing materials,
though Schreiber said they never completely ran out. He said
it wasn't a question of volume: "The de-icing material
just -wasn't working. There was so much ice out there, it
just wasn't making a dent.
"As soon as we would get it cleared we would get another
wave of freezing rain in, and after a while the runways became
too slippery. We consulted with some of the airlines to see
how they felt about things, and we all came to the conclusion
that it was too dangerous to operate aircraft.
"Ultimately, that's our job here, to make sure that
things operate safely and we're not putting people in jeopardy,"
Schreiber said. "That has to be our highest priority."
The airport was closed for nearly three days, stranding thousands.
While service appeared to be pretty much back to normal by
Friday, many passengers were left wondering whether they would
be compensated for the inconvenience.
Some airlines offered free accommodations to stranded travelers.
When all of the hotels near the airport filled up, the port
helped transport people for free to lodging in the Lloyd Center
"We have tried to arrange for hotel rooms for passengers
and for transportation to get people to hotel rooms,"
Schreiber said. "We've worked with our concessions to
provide food and beverages to people. We're trying to do everything
we can to make people comfortable."
Help on the way
Passengers also received a helping hand from the Red Cross,
the Salvation Army and a family of spontaneous volunteers.
Gary and DaLynn Patterson drove up from Sherwood with their
four children to hand out snacks and drinks to passengers
who were delayed by the storm.
"We were stuck at home and we thought we'd practice
some random acts of kindness," Gary Patterson said. "Some
of these folks have been here for four days. We met two girls
from Israel who didn't know anyone here and were just trying
to get home."
DaLynn Patterson added: "We've had to stay overnight
in airports before. We know what that's like. We know how
much you just want to get out of there."