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Winter storms expected to create difficult holiday travel conditions

Snow began to pile up on I-5 in the Weed-Mount Shasta after dark Tuesday.
California Highway Patrol
Snow began to pile up on I-5 in the Weed-Mount Shasta after dark on January 27, 2021.

A series of winter storms could create difficult holiday travel conditions throughout the weekend.

As several storms roll in, snow is expected to fall at elevations above 1500 feet on Friday, slightly higher than the elevation of Medford. High elevation passes like Siskiyou Summit on Interstate 5 at the Oregon-California border are expected to get snow through the weekend. The Cascades could get 6-12 inches of snow and Highway 97 east of the Cascades could get six inches near Chemult, according to the National Weather Service.

Even I-5 north from Grants Pass to Canyonville could get 4-8 inches of snow starting Friday afternoon, according to Ryan Sandler, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Medford.

Holiday travelers should go before Friday afternoon if possible, he says.

“If you’re leaving Friday morning you might be okay. But if you’ve got to come back Friday late in the day or Friday evening Christmas Eve, there could be winter weather even in the lower elevations between the valleys,” Sandler says.

On Thursday evening Gov. Kate Brown issued a state of emergency for severe winter weather through Jan. 3.

"This weather is expected to bring heavy snow and sustained temperatures below freezing, resulting in critical transportation failures and disruptions to power and communications infrastructure," Brown's office wrote in a statement.

Also on Thursday, the Oregon Office of Emergency Management issued a warning about snowy and windy conditions over the next 7-10 days that could result in power outages and dangerous driving conditions.

A second storm could make travel difficult on Sunday, when many people are heading home after Christmas.

“It looks like there’s going to be a lot of snow around, especially in the mountains, but even in the valleys there could be snow on Sunday,” Sandler says. “So, that’s what we’re really looking at for people traveling back. On Sunday it could be a lot of winter weather and very messy.”

Drivers should carry chains, use four-wheel drive, if possible, and be prepared for delays over the holiday weekend.

More information about current road conditions in Oregon is available on the TripCheck website and on the Caltranswebsite in California.

Erik Neumann is JPR's news director. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.