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Storm Warning: 'We don't know what to expect. We know that ice wreaks havoc'

EUGENE, Ore. - The National Weather Service in Portland upgraded the Winter Storm Watch to a Winter Storm Warning for freezing rain Saturday.

The warming is in effect from 4 a.m. Saturday to 6 a.m. Sunday.

The ice storm comes on the heels of a snowstorm and record cold temperatures this week.

That storm disrupted ongoing efforts by Eugene Public Works to clean up from the December 14 ice storm.

The December storm damaged hundreds of trees and plunged tens of thousands of people into the dark, some for more than a week. Total damages from the December storm total nearly $9.5 million.

"This is really a one-two punch," said Linda Cook, Lane County's emergency manager. "We haven't seen anything like the December 14 storm ever in Lane County's history."

The forecast Saturday calls for almost as much ice as the December storm.

"So this is going to be a really big deal," Cook said.

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Forecasters said precipitation will likely start out as snow before transitioning to freezing rain.

"A brief period of snow and sleet saturday morning should quickly change over to freezing rain," forecasters said in the warning issued at 3:17 p.m. Friday. "Freezing rain is expected to continue into Saturday evening, then change over to rain as temperatures rise above freezing Saturday night or early Sunday morning."

Snow accumulation will generally be 1 inch or less.

Ice accumulation will be up to one half inch.

"The combination of ice and snow will likely bring down some trees and power lines, leading to power disruptions in some areas," forecasters said.

"We've been watching the forecast all week," said Joe Harwood with the Eugene Water & Electric Board. More than 20,000 EWEB customers lost power in December.

But Lane County was the only county in Oregon to suffer damage in the December ice storm.

That's one key difference this time. Dozens of line crews from across Oregon helped EWEB restore power, a process that took over a week for some customers.

This storm threatens a wider swath of Western Oregon - including places that sent crews to help out EWEB in December.

"I'm not sure if we'll have the ability to call out mutual aid crews if that's needed," Harwood said, "because they're going to have to be staying home and restoring their own customers."

Patty Jo Angelini at Emerald People's Utility District said utilities are urging people to stock up on food, water, batteries and medical supplies.

"A lot of people were caught off guard," she said of the December power outage, "so we don't want that to happen this time."

And just because your power has been restored - or you escaped problems in December - doesn't mean you are safe, authorities warned.

"If you think, 'Well it happened to me last time, so I'm fine this time' - there are no guarantees," said Cook, Lane County's emergency manager. "We don't know what to expect. We know that ice wreaks havoc."

One area of good news this time: the freezing rain will switch over to plain rain first in Lane County. The freezing rain will linger longer in Portland and the Columbia River Gorge.

But during the storm, forecasters urge Oregonians to just stay put.

"Travel will become difficult," they warned, "as ice and snow are expected to make roads and sidewalks very slick, especially untreated secondary roads."

Bottom line: Be prepared. Use caution.

And remember:

"One way or another," Harwood said, "we'll get through it."

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