The first day of winter arrived Wednesday with chilling warnings from meteorologists, who urged communities in the Pacific Northwest to brace for dangerous weather to come.
Below-freezing temperatures forecast to arrive overnight will be followed Thursday by gusty winds that could snarl holiday traffic, down powerlines and threaten the lives of unhoused people, meteorologists warned.
Areas of central and eastern Oregon and Washington could see wind chills as low as 25 degrees below zero, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Portland metro area is facing the coldest temperatures it’s seen in two decades.
The forecast has prompted a flurry of preparations from emergency managers seeking to protect the state’s most vulnerable.
With the upcoming #Arctic outbreak with extreme cold temperatures and very dangerous wind chills, here is a safety tip on the signs of hypothermia. If you have to be outside during this life-threatening event, please be safe! pic.twitter.com/kSJs7P07Rb
— National Weather Service (@NWS) December 21, 2022
Multnomah County leaders declared a state of emergency Tuesday and announced plans to open warming shelters. Nearly 300 miles away, near Oregon’s southern border, officials in Ashland opened an emergency shelter for people seeking respite from extreme weather.
Nearly 15,000 Oregonians experienced homelessness at once during a count of the unhoused population earlier this year, according to an estimate released Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Weather conditions are already beginning to affect holiday travel. Amtrak canceled Portland and Seattle departures of its West Coast-to-Chicago Empire Builder train line beginning Tuesday. And while Portland International Airport cancellations were minimal as of Wednesday morning, the Port of Portland warned travelers to check with airlines to confirm flight status as the weather worsens.
The rest of the United States is facing similar perils. The National Weather Service has warned of extreme cold that will affect most of the 48 contiguous U.S. states, calling it the start of an “astronomical winter.” According to The Weather Channel, 250 million people will face sub-freezing lows across the country in the days ahead.
This is a developing story and could be updated.