Snow in Portland? OH NO!
In low elevation Portland we don’t get much snow. However, it does happen once or twice a year. Since many residents don’t drive in snow regularly, there is more than a bit of chaos every time. Schools and businesses will close with just 1″ of snow on the ground. Here are a few tips to help you stay safe if it does snow, or you plan a trip to Mt Hood. Check out AAA’s advice for driving in the snow.
I’ve also heard great tips like, carry a shovel just in case, and a bag of kitty litter to use for emergency traction if you get stuck on an icy hill. Food, water, and blankets can also be useful. During Portland’s last snow event in 2019, many motorists were stranded on the freeways for 5-7 hours on their way home from work.
Traction Tires and Devices
This is what ODOT calls “Chains or Traction Tires Required”. The official definition.
From there you will find a link to the Traction Tire page which has a bit more information. But all of this is a bit out of date compared to what the industry offers today. They only talk about Studded Tires, but there are other great options.
Tires designated by the tire industry as suitable for use in severe snow conditions are marked with a mountain/snowflake emblem on the sidewall like this:
There are several common options available if you want to buy tires just to use in the Winter to be ready for snow and Ice. This is typical for people who live East of the Cascades, people who regularly drive the mountain passes in the Winter (skiers and winter sports enthusiasts for example) and people who live in the Columbia Gorge. In addition to studded snow tires, with hard metal spikes that are sticking out of the tire and make a noted clicking sound when you drive, there are “studless” snow tires marked with the above emblem that are legal to use in most situations on snow-covered roads in Oregon. They work quite well in most snow and icy conditions when combined with an AWD or 4WD vehicle. These snow tires without the studs are quiet to drive and don’t damage the roads (or your driveway). They are made with a softer rubber compound that stays soft at very low temperatures, so they stick to the road and ice even when it’s cold. The tread pattern is made to work well in snow, with larger sidebars that dig into loose snow. I’ve used these for many years, and as an avid skier have made 100s of trips and driven 1000s of miles on them in snow and ice without any problems. You must remove these winter tires when the weather warms up or you will wear them out completely in the hot months.
For around town and the occasional emergency need when there is snow, there are options that can be added to most tires, on most cars. Really close clearance wheel wells on sports cars or performance cars may be a problem for many chains or other “hard” devices that you put on your tires. But one newer product seems to be a simple promising solution to this and the dreaded ‘putting on the chains ordeal’ in the freezing snow. It’s called “AutoSocks”. These are fabric “socks” that cover your tires. Think of a fitted sheet with the elastic around the edge. Same idea but for tires.
Most local tire retailers and AAA carry them. So before you spend $500-$1000 on snow tires. Consider a set of these to get you through a few days or if you have to drive a short distance on local streets. They are not designed to go more than 30mph and work best on a front-wheel-drive or AWD vehicles.
Be careful out there and be sure to dress warm, wear boots, and have a hat and gloves with you if you go out in the snow. Getting stuck in the wrong clothes and without a few items to protect your skin while you walk for help is not fun. And remember to call AAA or ODOT for help, if you do get stranded on the highways and see if they can get you help. There is a hefty fine for abandoning your car on a Portland-area freeway, highway or any major street.