Posted by: atowhee | February 22, 2021


A real ice storm hit the upper Willamette Valley the night of Feb 12. Just this afternoon our house in Salem was reconnected to the internet, again. Then days–that was longest time I have been offline in a quarter century. Back in 1995-6 we built a website at my SF TV station (KPIX) and the CBS bosses in New York thought it was a waste of time, just another sill California fad.

THE ICE STORM—February President’s Day weekend

A few days before the weather forecasts for Salem had promised snow.  The winter storm did bring snow to some of the region but not to Salem. Fifty miles north in Portland fur daughter got at least eight inches of snow at her house.  In the days and then hors prior to the storm our own local forecast morphed from snow to freezing rain.  Thus it was, our biggest ice storm here this century.

Thursday night and Friday morning a light drizzle began coating all exterior surfaces with ice.  And outdoor areas not conducting heat from the soil itself was glazed with diamond clear ice on Friday.  All that day remained below freezing and so the ice stayed, but this original glazing was less than a quarter-inch thick.  Some deciduous evergreens like bamboo bent but looked hardy enough to withstand the weight.  On Friday the dark pavement absorbed the minimal solar heat that leaked through the clouds and so remained wet but not iced.  There was treacherous walking on flag stones, wooden bridges, anything metallic or even steep grassy slopes.

On Friday night the disheartening heart of the storm passed over Salem.  Real rain this time and rapid freezing.  The sound of cracking wood and crashing limbs began well before dawn.  The rain came all night.  There were sporadic explosions as limbs of all sizes, even some tree trunks, split and fell onto whatever lay below.  Electricity was gone from all the homes around by 2AM.  The cold seeped inside.

After Saturday dawned the dog and I surveyed the neighborhood on foot, careful to avoid ice, falling limbs, each announced by the warning crack of shattering wood,  and those few swerving vehicles trying to navigate slippery streets strewn with the shattered ruins of an urban forest.  The heedless storm had ripped down limbs, toppled some trees from the base where roots gave in to the weight of ice, tore off single leaves, small twigs, aged walnuts, whole shrubs.  Power lines and cable lines were snapped by falling timber and lay limp across the streets, draped over cars or roofs.  Occasionally I would stop to marvel at one line arced artfully from a utility pole to the nearest drapery point, a road sign or a pick-up.  Many fallen limbs had brought down long strips of bark torn from the tree’s trunk beneath where the limb had once attached.  Every tree naturally adds reinforcing growth beneath the point where each limb reaches away from the trunk.  Nature’s buttresses, so of course that portion of the bark would cling dutifully to its appointed limb, even as failure destroyed the limb joint.  Near Clark Creek two ash trees had been undercut by years of running water, the ice simply completed the destruction by felling both across the creek.  In some cases limbs were shattered when they hit pavement, or even the soggy earth itself.

During Saturday ambulances were heard racing through the streets.  Otherwise there was almost no traffic noise.  No planes overhead. For a day without electricity the only warmth came from hot water out of a natural gas-powered water heater.  After dark candles, flashlights, an electric lantern and a small reading light had to suffice.  No internet.  That continued to be true all through Sunday and then Monday.

Saturday our next-door neighbor was out with his chain saw, helping yet another neighbor remove fallen limbs from their yard and a street corner.  Those neighbors said one limb had crashed int their kitchen on the back side of their home.  Earlier I had seen one car and one trunk slammed by fallen limbs.

By 1030 AM Saturday the temperature was up to 36 but it got no warmer.  Limbs continued to crash as the slow melt produced drops that were as heavy as the pre-existing ice.  And there were elongating icicles.  Two inches at dawn, six inches by mid-afternoon, so low-hanging limbs and portions of roof edge were bearing ever more weight, sometimes failing and falling.  By 11AM the temp had climbed to near forty and now ice is crashing down, sometimes doing its own damage without need of wood.  By 1130AM the ice fall is prodigious—large sheets or sudden bursts of ice chunks slam onto lawn furniture, cars, lower limbs or shrubs.

For days afterword the sound of chainsaws can be heard across South Salem.  I feel here in Oregon the percentage of households with a chain saw may be higher than the percentage with firearms.  The firwood vendors are in for a slack year here in 2021.  Free wood abounds and will be ready for next fall and winter.

Our home got electricity back on Sunday.  Neighbors a few doors down did not have electricity even late Monday.  Business on main thoroughfares are not all open.  Some major intersections still have no traffic lights by dusk on Monday.  Drive-in fast food vendors that are open have long lines.  No power means food in the frig is spoiling and the microwave doesn’t work, not the dishwasher, and if you don’t have a gas stove….

In our garden five large limbs fell, doing no damage to manmade structure but punishing the plants below.  Spring will surely bring new growth to replace some of what has been lost. Monday temps got into high 40s but still there were small portions of the original ice mounds beneath big trees that had not melted completely.

Without internet I had to cancel a Monday night Zoom bird class.  Without email I called each participant.  Two who live north of us in Clackamas County had been badly hit—one woman was out of her home which had been cleaved by a large tree trunk.  No reports of injury among our group.  We heard several stories of family members with electricity hosting family members from around the areas with no power.  So much for social distancing when the house temp drops below 40 degrees.  That’s why many of our ancestors preferred cave-dwelling, back from the entrance the temperature rarely drops below 55.

A bit of unforeseen beauty came with the ice covering of a half inch or more.  Each leaf or conifer needle was coated with the clear glaze. The crystalline veneer clings to each surface like a death mask.  A gentle shake or flexing of a leaf would free the ice.  Holding one for close study you see its leaf-touching side is a perfect replica of each vein, nob or curve or scallop of the leaf it once covered—a death mask for the living.  The most refined and adept sculptor would be humbled.  Ephemeral beauty that nature giveth and soon taketh away.  By Monday all the surviving ice nodules were like cold bits of nobbly gravel.


  1. […] For a closer look at the ice storm devastation, click here for blog done ten days later when we fina… […]

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