Eastbound lanes of Interstate 90 over Snoqualmie Pass reopened Thursday evening. The roadway remained closed most of Christmas Eve due to heavy snow and toppled trees.
Transportation crews reopened eastbound lanes of Snoqualmie Pass at 7 p.m. Thursday after being closed all day due to heavy snow, toppled trees and high avalanche danger, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT).
Westbound lanes are expected to open at 1 a.m. Friday, the agency tweeted.
Stevens Pass (Highway 2), meanwhile, opened to traffic early afternoon after an all-morning closure. The department advises traction tires on all vehicles.
Drivers commiserated about interrupted holiday plans on Twitter. “Should have just went to El Paso” for the Sun Bowl, one Washington State University Cougar fan wrote.
A WSDOT tweet about the I-90 closure said, “We recognize closing the pass presents a hardship to travelers and don’t do it lightly. Safety has to come first.”
More than 110 inches of snow has fallen in the pass in the past seven days, according to WSDOT, with an additional 7 to 12 inches expected Thursday night.
Snow depths of up to 15 feet have reached the freeway; WSDOT is posting developments on the closures on a blog.
A WSDOT post on the blog says the amount of snow that has fallen on Snoqualmie Pass in the past week is more than a quarter of what would typically fall all winter. New snow hasn’t had a chance to settle and compact, so the chance of avalanches is heightened.
The pass closures come a day after WSDOT advised travelers to wait until Thursday to cross the passes because of heavy snow Wednesday.
In addition to Stevens Pass, several alternate routes are available to Eastern Washington, including Highway 12 over White Pass, where chains are required for all vehicles without all-wheel drive. Highway 14 and Interstate 84 through the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon also are alternatives.
A 4:40 p.m. Amtrak train from Seattle to Spokane showed one ticket available as of 1 p.m. Thursday: A $751 Superliner Bedroom with two bunks and an in-room shower and toilet. More choices were available on a 7:25 a.m. train on Christmas Day.
The amount of snow and the number of passes affected, especially for this time of year, are rare, WSDOT officials said Thursday. While crews clear one avalanche chute, up to 5 feet of new snow will fall at one time into another chute.
Crews are watching some 30 avalanche chutes on the hillsides east of I-90, in sites that have a history of snow or rock slides. Five of these sites are next to the former westbound snowshed, which was demolished in 2014. This site, on a curve, is considered the most difficult area to clear, said spokesman Travis Phelps.
Rainfall in the mountains at mid-day sharply increases the danger of avalanches, WSDOT said.
Workers on skis have been planting concussion devices to detonate snowbanks. At other sites, a small cannon is used to lob ordnance into slide zones, he said.
In January 2009, Snoqualmie, Stevens and White passes were all closed for a day because of a high avalanche danger.
At both ends of the Snoqualmie Pass closure, drivers were turning around instead of waiting, the department said.
Heavy snowfall in the mountains was expected to start easing possibly early evening on Thursday, according to a winter weather advisory from the National Weather Service.
Travelers should check WSDOT’s mountain-pass report for updates.
Drivers on any mountain route are advised to expect delays and carry an extra flashlight, food, water and blanket. They should make sure their gas tank is full, and to expect that chains or all-wheel drive will be required in the passes when they’re open.
Stuck in traffic or behind a road closure? You might pass the time watching an educational video about how WSDOT avalanche-control teams secure avalanche areas.
Seattle Times staff reporter Jessica Lee contributed to this story.