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Friday, May 13, 2011
Kris Olsen, WSDOT Communications, 206-770-4475 (Cayuse Pass)
Summer Derrey, WSDOT Communications, 509-577-1943 (Chinook Pass)
Jeff Adamson, WSDOT Communications, 509-667-2815 (North Cascades Highway)
Crews battle late-spring snowfall and avalanche danger in mountain passes
CASCADE MOUNTAINS – The calendar might say spring, but Old Man Winter hasn’t easily released his icy grip on three mountain passes cutting through the Cascades. Record amounts of snow are hampering efforts to clear and reopen the passes.
Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) crews on the North Cascades Highway, and Chinook and Cayuse passes are working hard to open at least two of the passes by Memorial Day weekend.
“It may not be the perfect storm, but La Niña’s record snowfall certainly presents a huge challenge to reopen Cayuse, Chinook and the North Cascades as quickly as possible,” said Dave McCormick, assistant regional administrator for maintenance and operations. “Our crews are working through these unusual weather conditions and I’m grateful for peoples’ understanding about the late openings.”
SR 20 North Cascades Highway
The North Cascades Highway (elev. 5,477 ft.) offers some of the most spectacular views in the Cascade mountains. Drivers may get to enjoy them as early as Memorial Day weekend if crews have anything to say about it. Crews from the west side are now working near Rainy Pass, while crews from the east side are west of Liberty Bell. Less than a dozen miles separate them, but this area is one of the most difficult and dangerous stretches on the highway to clear. Avalanches can be up to 75 feet deep in this area. It is not uncommon for crews to spend a long day clearing snow only to discover a new avalanche blocking their path home. June 14, 1974, is the latest reopening date since the highway began operating in 1972. Find out more about the North Cascade Highway at www.wsdot.wa.gov/traffic/passes/northcascades and check out Flickr pictures of snow clearing.
SR 123 Cayuse Pass
Crews also hope to have Cayuse Pass (elev. 4,675 ft.) open by Memorial Day weekend. They are working toward cutting a single path to the interchange with SR 12 within a week. After that, crews will widen the cut to open the two-lane road over the pass. Snowfall and avalanches slowed clearing efforts this year. New snow frequently forced the crew to re-plow the road just to reach the equipment and continue clearing. Excluding 2006 and 2007 when washouts and road repairs delayed the opening, the latest Cayuse Pass reopened was June 21, 1996. Bookmark the Cayuse Pass website for reopening information and see Cayuse Pass clearing pictures on Flickr.
SR 410 Chinook Pass
Avalanche-control work on Chinook Pass (elev. 5,430 ft.) has been nearly constant since clearing began in early April. For safety reasons, crews often backed down off the pass and halted work due to natural and controlled avalanches. Because of the continuing danger and late-spring snow, there is no reopening date yet. The latest opening date on record is July 12, 1974. The Chinook Pass website has up-to-date information about clearing efforts and WSDOT’s Flickr site has pictures of snow clearing.
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