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Weekly wrap-up: Snow strands thousands in Portland, Oregon; Dangerous air quality sparks red alert in Beijing

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Thousands of people were stranded on roads in Portland, Oregon, on Wednesday evening as snow struck the city just before the evening commute.

Some were stuck in a city-wide gridlock for hours with many electing to abandon their cars along the side of the road. Few ditched their cars in the middle of the road, leading to even more disruptions.

portland snow travel

Abandoned cars line the side of I-405 as commuters work their way into town in Portland, Ore., Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016. A winter storm dumped several inches of snow in the area late Wednesday, snarling traffic, causing many commuters to abandon their cars. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)

Heavy snow in the mountains east of Portland led to multiple avalanches, three of which cornered on Highway 20, shutting down the mountain pass. There were no reported injuries due to the avalanches.

Oregon Avalanche 12-14-16

The coldest air was focused on the northern Plains and Midwest with high temperatures in the single digits and wind chill values occasionally dipping below minus 30 F.

The frigid air also led to lake-effect snow downwind of the Great Lakes with feet of snow falling around Buffalo and Watertown, New York, including some thundersnow.

Off the coast, America’s first offshore wind farm began commercial operation this week.

Developed by Deepwater Wind, the Block Island Wind Farm is located 3 miles southeast of Block Island, Rhode Island, and will deliver electricity into the New England region's grid on a regular basis.

The 30-megawatt project was completed in two years with the help of more than 300 local workers. It consists of five wind turbines supplied by GE Renewable Energy. In addition to providing electricity, the wind farm is also expected to help reduce air pollution across southern New England.

“This is a historic and groundbreaking project for Rhode Island and for our country. I am so proud and excited to see the blades of progress turning and the wind farm in operation," U.S. Congressman Jim Langevin said.

AP Rhode Island Wind Turbines

Three wind turbines from the Deepwater Wind project off Block Island, R.I., are viewed Monday, Aug. 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

This was the first hurricane-strength storm to hit India this season, leading to widespread flooding, wind damage and at least 18 fatalities.

A red alert was issued for Beijing on Thursday as high levels of air pollution led to extremely poor air quality over the region. In total, 23 cities was included in the red alert.

Poor air quality is expected to continue over the next several days over the region, posting a serious heath risk to residents and potential delaying air travel.