Region-wide storm inundates valley, paralyzes passes
A volunteer weather station west of Twisp reported the deepest two-day snow total of last week’s storm with 29.8 inches of new snow.
Starting late Wednesday (Jan. 5) and lasting through Friday, the storm dumped record snowfalls throughout North Central Washington. Leavenworth declared a state of emergency due to the storm, all of the major Cascade passes closed through the weekend and Wenatchee reported its highest 24-hour snow total ever.
The majority of snow fell on the Methow Valley before dawn Thursday, and many residents woke up snowed in.
North Central Libraries branches in Chelan, Douglas, Grant, Okanogan and Ferry counties were all closed Thursday. The Cove didn’t open for its normal Thursday food bank distribution and Room One also announced staff would take their “first snow day ever.” Methow Recycles closed its Twisp facility and numerous businesses opened later than usual as plowing crews worked overtime to clear roads.
WasteWise Methow collected garbage on time, for residents whose garbage cans were still visible.
Methow Valley School District followed the example of many other school districts across the county, and canceled all classes and after school activities Thursday, and had a late start Friday.
Many of the major roads in the Methow were plowed by mid-morning Thursday, but residential and side streets were still barely passable for vehicles.
The Northwest Avalanche Center issued a warning for avalanches at all elevations in the Cascades last week, and the Methow saw some relatively minor slides that blocked roads, but no injuries were reported.
At 4:35 p.m. on Friday, an “avalanche” was reported on Benson Creek Drive in Twisp. A person reported to 911 dispatchers that the snow was 8 feet deep over the road. At 7:02 p.m. that day, another snow slide that made a portion of Twisp River Road impassable. A third snow slide was reported at 11:35 a.m. on Sunday (Jan. 9) on Stokes Road in Carlton.
No injuries were reported in any of those incidents. All of the incidents were referred to Okanogan County Public Works.
By Friday afternoon, the snow had stopped falling but afternoon winds started causing their own problems.
At about 3 p.m. on Friday, several vehicles got stuck after wind caused deep snow drifts on Gunn Ranch Road in Winthrop.
Mark Clark, a part-time Winthrop resident, went up to the Gunn Ranch Trailhead for a ski just as the wind started kicking up Friday.
“It was super windy on the ridge so I just turned around and came back after about 20 minutes,” he said.
While the way up was clear, the way down soon turned to whiteout conditions. Clark found himself stuck in a snowdrift, got unstuck, then found several more drivers stuck in another drift. In all, he counted about eight cars stuck in the sudden conditions. One of the drivers called the Sheriff’s Office, which contacted Public Works. Eventually, county snow plows rescued the stranded drivers.
Clark said he was stranded for about three hours.
“They had to move a lot of snow to get to us,” he said.
The National Weather Service doesn’t have a formal snowfall-monitoring station in the Methow Valley, but relies on trained volunteers in the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network, or CoCoRaHS, to document snowfall amounts during storm events.
Over the 48-hour period ending 7 a.m. Friday, one of these stations 9.3 miles west of Twisp recorded 29.8 inches.
Other CoCoRaHS stations recorded the following data:
• 1.6 NW Mazama — 24.9 inches at 9 a.m. Friday.
• Winthrop — 20.4 inches, at 3:30 p.m. Friday.
• 3.3 SE Winthrop — 19.8 inches at 1 p.m. Friday.
• 2.3 SE Twisp — 19.5 inches at 8 a.m. Friday.
• 1 SSW Carlton — 19 inches at 10 a.m. Friday.
The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration reported this week that the total snow depth in the Winthrop area was 31 inches, with more than 20 new inches added over the course of the snowstorm. The record snow depth at this time of year in Winthrop, according to NOAA, is 35 inches, set in 1966.
In Mazama, the total snow depth was 35.1 inches this week, up just over 25 inches from before Thursday and Friday’s snow.
NOAA did not have data on snow depth for Twisp.