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Originally published Tuesday, December 25, 2012 at 9:39 AM

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Stretch of Highway 2 in Wash. faces long closure

State transportation officials say U.S. Highway 2 could remain closed between Leavenworth and Stevens Pass until a significant weather change.

The Associated Press

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STEVENS PASS, Wash. —

State transportation officials say U.S. Highway 2 could remain closed between Leavenworth and Stevens Pass until a significant weather change.

The 35-mile stretch of highway has been closed since Saturday evening, after trees crashed down on two cars and killed two people.

The highway is one of two primary east-west routes through the mountains usually open during the winter.

Transportation spokesman Jeff Adamson told The Wenatchee World (http://is.gd/wI8gq6) that trees along the roadway are overloaded with snow and pose a hazard to drivers. Transportation officials don't have a way to clear the snow off tree branches so they just need to wait for warmer temperatures or wind to move the snow.

"There's just not much we can do about it," Adamson said.

About 7,000 to 10,000 drivers cross Stevens Pass on a typical holiday, and they will have to cross the mountains on Snoqualmie and Blewett passes this year.

"The thought of having the road closed for weeks is just mind boggling, but at this point we don't know how long it's going to be closed," Adamson said.

The Stevens Pass trees are bending under snow that fell a week ago. The trees are toppling because the ground isn't frozen solid enough yet to stabilize the trees under the heavy load, Adamson said.

The DOT's maintenance supervisor for Stevens Pass has been working in that area for 30 years and has never seen conditions like this, he said.

Several days of freezing conditions would stabilize the tree roots, or very warm conditions will melt the snow and cause it to fall from the branches.

The National Weather Service in Spokane has forecast low temperatures in the teens and 20s through next weekend for the Lake Wenatchee area. But more snow is also predicted, with a 90 percent chance for Tuesday afternoon and a 30 percent chance Wednesday.

Transportation officials also are considering alternative ways to knock the snow off.

Adamson said someone has suggested using a National Guard Chinook helicopter to try and blow snow from the trees. But he said the Chelan County PUD tried that last week with a smaller contract helicopter, and it didn't work.

"At this point, we do not have a strategy to force the branches to release their overload of snow," Adamson said. "We just don't know how to do that safely."

So the highway will remain closed indefinitely.

"This is a very serious situation," he said. "We can't let people drive under those trees."

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