With temperatures expected to drop below freezing over the holiday weekend—and promise of snow—Multnomah County has declared a state of emergency to help residents weather the storm.
"This is going to be a very challenging Christmas season and we all need to prepare," said County Chair Deborah Kafoury during a Thursday press conference. "What is a matter of a holiday inconvenience for some is a matter of life or death for others."
Portland temperatures are expected to drop to the 30s over the weekend and hit a low of 17 degrees on Tuesday evening. The county and city have pooled resources to expand indoor shelter facilities and outreach to those living outside.
That includes opening five additional shelters for people seeking a place to warm up, starting at 3 pm on December 25 and remaining open 24 hours a day until temperatures rise. The locations of those shelters can be found on the county's webpage. Those shelters will allow for pets and visitors of all ages. Those interested can get a free ride to a shelter by calling 211.
Officials stressed the importance of reaching out to neighbors—both housed and unhoused—over the next week, to make sure they have what they need to stay warm and are aware of shelter locations and and other services. If requested, members of the public can pick up supplies to distribute to those living outside from the Joint Office of Homeless Services.
Kafoury noted that no resident will have their electricity or gas turned off due to lack of payment through January 2.
Multnomah County Health Officer Jennifer Vines warned that people outside or living without reliable heat are especially vulnerability to hypothermia, with symptoms that include shivering, slurred speech, confusion, and exhaustion.
"Please check on those around you, watch for people in distress, and don't assume that they're intoxicated," Vines said.
The last time a winter storm hit Portland, in February, ice covered the region—leaving thousands without power for long periods of time. Chris Voss, the director or Portland's Office of Emergency Management, said that National Weather Service workers have told him that the snow Portland's expecting this weekend shouldn't generate the kind of ice that led to February's outages.
The emergency declaration falls exactly six months after the county faced its last extreme weather event: A three-day heatwave that reached temperatures of 116. The heatwave took local government somewhat off-guard, with officials scrambling to staff cooling centers and support those with health issues exacerbated by heat. A report by the county found that 54 people died due to the heatwave in June. Most of those who died lived alone without air conditioning.
Kafoury said that Thursday's decision to declare a state of emergency was informed by the summer heatwave. The declaration allows for more funding to respond to this type of emergency. The declaration will last until January 3.