After a weekend blast of wintry weather, with more of the same forecast, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) closed the North Cascades Highway for the season on Monday (Nov. 16).
WSDOT temporarily closed the highway at 10 a.m. Thursday (Nov. 12) due to heavy snowfall and a forecast for heavy rain, providing a rising potential for avalanches. After Monday’s assessment by maintenance and avalanche technicians, WSDOT determined it could not safely keep the North Cascades Highway open.
“Avalanche chutes are full and icy, and we’d be putting the public and our crews at risk if we tried to keep the road open any longer,” said Twisp Maintenance Supervisor Don Becker.
On Monday WSDOT avalanche and maintenance technicians needed a plow truck to reach Washington Pass, WSDOT said in a press release. They encountered four avalanches that blocked lanes, and 2 feet of new snow with a layer of ice on top in the chutes and at the summit. The forecast earlier this week called for up to 4 feet of new snow by Wednesday (Nov. 18).
Last year, WSDOT closed the North Cascades Highway for the season on Nov. 24. The 37-mile-long winter closure zone begins 14 miles east of Newhalem at milepost 134 on the west side of Rainy Pass (4,855 feet), and ends 22 miles west of Winthrop at milepost 171 (the Silver Star gate) below Washington Pass.
Avalanches usually close the highway between Thanksgiving and the second week of December. The earliest closure recorded was Nov. 2, 2005. Due to drought and little snow, the highway never closed in 1976.