Don Hamilton of ODOT warns the shortages are state-wide including in the Portland area.
“If we get hit by a bad winter storm, it’s going to take us a little longer to get these roads clear than we otherwise would hope for,” said Hamilton.
Heading into the winter season, Hamilton said ODOT is looking to fill 132 positions in charge of snow plowing, de-icing, and clearing the roads, with 40 vacancies in eastern Oregon alone.
“Eastern Oregon is a big area geographically, it’s where they get an awful lot of snow,” said Hamilton. “They’ve got an awful lot of issues involved with maintenance around there, and that’s where we’re seeing our biggest drop in the number of plow drivers.”
As ODOT sees a drop in plow drivers, Oregon is seeing a drop in temperature, a formula Hamilton warns could impact commuters if a snowstorm hits.
“When we don’t have enough plow drivers, when we don’t have enough operators for the salt trucks, the sand trucks, the de-icer vehicles roads are not going to get cleared as quickly as we would like to get them clear,” said Hamilton. “We’re trying to get these positions filled as soon as we can.”
The warning comes nearly a week after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a 90-day anticipated weather forecast, predicting more extreme winter weather could hit the Pacific Northwest.
According to the report, NOAA’s climate prediction center forecast a 76 % chance of ‘La Nina’ in the region between December of this year and February of 2023, along with above-average amounts of rain and snow, and colder-than-average winter temperatures.
The Oregon Department of Agriculture also stated in their seasonal climate forecast that this upcoming winter may bring ‘heightened chances for extreme weather events, mainly in December and January.
While forecasts are subject to change, Hamilton says drivers should be extra cautious and prepared this holiday travel season.
“Everybody has to be ready when snow comes,” said Hamilton. “They need to make sure that they get themselves safe before a storm hits. That’s the most important thing; don’t start heading for home after the storm hits.”