Storms create troubles, trials in Sisters


Last updated 1/23/2024 at 10:08am

Photo by Bill Bartlett

Several days of frigid temperatures followed by freezing rain caused myriad problems across Sisters Country.

The snow that dumped on Sisters Country ranging from 18 to 30-plus inches was challenging enough, especially as it was accompanied by bitter cold and hazardous winds. When the snow subsided, weather related problems were not abated. In some cases they got worse.

Most tragically two children, including an infant, were among the five people killed in a crash on Highway 97 near Crescent last Wednesday, January 17, after colliding with a semi-truck. Another child was injured. The iced highway was believed to be an aggravating factor.

Here in Sisters, storm related damage is causing havoc and disruption. The Sisters Library closed on Wednesday, January 17, after a significant water leak flooded parts of the building. The leak was discovered last Wednesday morning, with standing water found in the community room, and the children's area.

The cause is still under investigation, but early assessments point to a burst pipe, which happened during the recent cold snap that sent temperatures plummeting into sub-freezing territory for days. The Sisters Library will remain closed while contractors and disaster mitigation services work to ensure that any leaks are repaired and that all structures and furnishings are dried or replaced if needed.

"Staff are just heartbroken with this situation," said library Director Todd Dunkelberg. "But we are working closely with our contractors to repair the damage and are eager to reopen again as soon as possible."

Dunkelberg told The Nugget that the goal was to reopen for regular hours next Tuesday.

Over at Sisters High School, water came through the ceiling in the reception area and small leaks were noticed in other parts of the building. Ice dams are the presumed source of the problem. The high school roof has had a history of leaks.

While a number of trees have been felled by the heavy snow and ice, the Forest Service reports that damage to campsites and structures is negligible. The Sisters Ranger District has seen nothing like the kind of tree damage that has occurred on the west side of the Cascades.

Forest officials warn drivers to stay off of unplowed roads.

There are no reports of injury to the roughly 100 non-recreational campers living in the forest, although Sisters District Ranger noted that many camps, especially those off of Highway 242 are inaccessible. Sisters District Ranger Ian Reid noted that those living in the forest do have communications and officials have no reason to believe that anyone is in imminent danger.

Things are, however, pretty miserable in the woods, and likely to be complicated by a warm-up and rain-on-snow that will turn things sloppy.

Sisters streets, while plowed, are rutted with hard-packed ice making driving a daredevil feat in some locations. Many drivers have remained at home not wanting to chance the conditions.

Some churches canceled services Sunday and schools have run on the delayed start schedule for several days. Many businesses continue to curtail hours to accommodate commuting workers.

The city dutifully lays down cinders at intersections where most serious accidents are apt to occur as cars slide into the path of crossing vehicles. All around town cars have been seen in the ditch or swales as they slid off the pavement. Speed is nearly always the main factor as drivers do not slow adequately to compensate for conditions.

Sisters plumbers and heating service contractors are flooded with orders, mostly from burst pipes or furnaces that are too old or too tired to keep up with days upon days of freezing temps.

Gabe Fisher of Roth Home in Sisters tells The Nugget that most calls are still being serviced within 24 hours but a few have gone to the second day. Their crews are working weekends to meet demands.

Plumbers are usually the first to get a call even if it's roof related. People see water or wet stains in their ceilings or on their walls and assume it's plumbing.

Ice dams are common in Sisters Country. They occur when heavy snow buildup melts during the day and then refreezes when temperatures drop overnight.

Photo by Bill Bartlett

Drying fans dot library floor in attempt to dry carpets flooded in storm-related damage.

After several days of melting-freezing cycles, it's common for the melted water and ice to work up under the shingles until water enters the attic and eventually does damage to the ceilings, wall and contents. In cases where the ice dam goes unnoticed for an extended period of time, it can do significant damage to the building and its contents.

Sweeney Plumbing in Sisters told The Nugget that calls for burst pipes were mounting through the week. Many, if not most, are for breaks in the outside water bibs when homeowners have not disconnected their garden hoses.

Homeowners are highly likely to experience water damage at some point in their lives. According to the Insurance Information Institute, water damage affects around 14,000 people in the United States every single day.


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