OKANOGAN – The gates are closed until spring on the North Cascades Highway.
Monday morning, Nov. 21, weather forecasts and an increasing threat of avalanches prompted Washington State Department of Transportation maintenance and avalanche teams to conclude that attempting to reopen this stretch of State Route 20 for Thanksgiving would be unsafe. The highway had been closed since Tuesday, Nov. 15, when heavy snow storms were approaching.
Eight inches of new snow accumulated by noon (today) Monday, and forecasts called for 4 inches more by evening, another 9 inches overnight and as many as 16 inches Tuesday. Coupled with warming temperatures, those quickly filling avalanche chutes won’t remain stable, WSDOT’s avalanche forecaster said, and it’s unsafe for road crews or motorists to be under them.
Last year, the highway closed temporarily on Nov. 29. Two days later, after a storm dropped 2 feet of snow, the highways closed until spring. The 37-mile winter closure zone begins seven miles east of Diablo Dam at milepost 134 on the west side of Rainy Pass (elevation 4,855 feet) to nine miles west of Mazama at milepost 171 below Washington Pass (elevation 5,477 feet).
Last spring, the highway reopened May 23, the second latest in the highway’s 39-year history. SR 20 typically reopens between the last week in March and the first week in May. The earliest opening was March 10, 2005. In 1976, a drought year, it remained open all winter.
Visit the North Cascades web page: www.wsdot.wa.gov/traffic/passes/northcascades and the North Cascades Flickr - photo site: www.flickr.com/photos/wsdot/sets/72157626170712679/