Snoqualmie Pass to remain closed until at least 9 a.m. Friday; governor declares state of emergency
Interstate 90 over Snoqualmie Pass will be closed until at least Friday morning as Department of Transportation crews worked to clear avalanches and heavy snow from the roadway. Gov. Christine Gregoire has declared a state of emergency for more than a do
Interstate 90 will remain closed over Snoqualmie Pass at least until 9 a.m. Friday, state transportation officials said today.
Two potential alternate routes through the Cascades, Interstate 84 along the Columbia River in Oregon and Highway 2, had been closed by snow. Both reopened this evening.
Meanwhile, Gov. Christine Gregoire declared a state of emergency this afternoon for more than a dozen counties as a result of the "relentless" snowstorms that have been pounding mountain passes and Eastern Washington for days.
The governor's declaration allows local agencies to contract with the private sector to get snow-clearing equipment more quickly.
The counties covered by the proclamation include Adams, Clark, Columbia, King, Kittitas, Klickitat, Lincoln, Okanogan, Pend Oreille, Skamania, Spokane, Stevens, Walla Walla, Whitman and Yakima.
Snoqualmie Pass has received five feet of snow in the past five days, outstripping crews' abilities to deal with avalanches — and two more feet of snow are predicted to fall by Friday evening.
"We're in a very active pattern, with a lot of fast-moving storms," said Dennis Damico of the National Weather Service. "This is a La Niña winter and a snowy time of year, but even for those conditions it has been very snowy."
Eastern Washington has also been hit hard by the snow. Spokane, where schools were closed for a fourth straight day, had its deepest snow in more than a decade, with 20 inches recorded this morning. The 114 inches of snow on the ground at Snoqualmie Pass today is the fourth highest total by this date in 40 years, said John Stimberis, avalanche forecaster for the state Department of Transportation (WSDOT).
Today, convoys led by the Washington State Patrol were allowed through the closed area periodically, beginning at 11 a.m., so people stuck at the pass last night could get down. Motorists who need to get to the summit of the pass were also escorted up, if they had chains or four-wheel drive.
I-90 at Snoqualmie Pass was covered by two avalanches in two days. Just hours after the first collapse was cleared Wednesday, a second avalanche sent snow, trees, rocks and other debris into the westbound lanes.
The second avalanche was cleared by 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, but state officials are keeping the highway closed today because of a danger of more avalanches. Rising temperatures and new snow have made the hillsides unstable, officials said.
Most state road crew members were wearing emergency beacons in case they were engulfed by another avalanche.
"It's so dangerous up there right now that we're worried about our own crew's safety," said WSDOT spokesman Travis Phelps.
This morning, more than 300 cars were lined up at the Snoqualmie Summit resort parking lot to be escorted down the mountain by state troopers,
The cars were full of skiers, resort employees and other people left stranded since the avalanche Wednesday afternoon.
Deb Darrow, 56, of Renton, was returning from a business trip in Eastern Washington when troopers forced her to turn back on I-90. She rushed to the packed Summit Inn and snagged a room with a woman who offered her the second bed. She later learned the woman lives a mile from her in Renton.
The two women made the best of it. "So we spent the night drinking wine," Darrow said, as she scraped snow off her Subaru Outback. "What more do you need?"
Nearby, Casey Graham drove a large grader up and down the road, pushing aside several feet of snow. Graham, who has worked for WSDOT for 20 years, said it's the worst snow he's ever seen at the pass. He started work at 6:30 a.m., his second straight day with a 12-hour shift. But he was in good spirits.
"If you like pushing snow, it's great," Graham said. "Nothing like it."
I-90 was closed eastbound at Edgewick, milepost 34, and westbound near Ellensburg, milepost 106. Semitrucks were parked along the highway and at a truck stop at Edgewick, waiting to be allowed through.
On a typical weekday, about 6,500 to 7,000 trucks drive over the pass.
Trucker Barry Wagner ate lunch at Ken's Restaurant in Edgewick this afternoon and said he wasn't expecting to leave anytime soon. He was supposed to transport a cryogenic tank from Seattle to Pennsylvania, but he's been stuck in Edgewick since Monday.
The worst drawback to not driving — besides loss of income — is boredom, he said.
His daily routine all week, Wagner said, has been: "Sit in my truck, come into the restaurant to eat, watch a little TV, watch a movie, talk on the radio."
Mel McCormick spent the afternoon blowing several feet of snow off his driveway, at Snoqualmie Pass, a mile away from I-90. Most of the neighboring homes are buried, he said. He and his wife have lived in the rural neighborhood for seven years, but they're planning to move closer to Cle Elum because of the heavy snowfall.
"It just keeps coming," McCormick said. "I've never seen it this high, this bad."
Ski areas at Snoqualmie Pass were "on standby until further notice" due to the closure of I-90, but Mount Baker has been open each day, and Thursday at midday reported a 165-inch base and 14 inches of new snow.
WSDOT officials said drivers on all mountain passes should be prepared for winter conditions, including compact snow and ice, and check www.wsdot.wa.gov/traffic/ for current highway conditions.
Seattle Times staff reporters Charles E. Brown, Ashley Bach, Jack Broom and Brian Alexander and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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