Avalanche control...

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

There has been an incredible amount of snow recently in the Cascades, 35 inches in the last 24 hours, and forecasts don't show it letting up anytime soon. Crews working overtime have recently removed over one million cubic yards of snow from I-90!

What does that avalanche control look like? We have a video posted on YouTube of a smaller version of avalanche control showing just how much snow can come down onto the highway and what crews have to do to make the highway passable.




We also have photos of this recent event.

The weather is changing rapidly across the state, be prepared and drive save out there.

51 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the video. Always wondered what is done and why it takes so long. It looks to be tedious work.

Anonymous said...

How long did this cleanup take? In the video it looks like only ~10% was complete... It would be interesting to hear how long the whole process took.

Thank you for sharing this... It's great to see the behind-the-scenes look into what you guys do!

Anonymous said...

How is the actual avalanche triggered?

Anonymous said...

Uhh... doesn't it make sense to have the snowshed cover both west/east bound lanes?

Anonymous said...

I have always wondered why they haven't built the snow shed on both sides of the road. I know the snow can be heavy no top of the snow shed, but it would be way easier to clear the snow off the top of the roof, then having to close a pass.

Jeremy Bertrand said...

In this example the avalanche is happening at the snow shed. Right now crews are fighting avalanches all across the pass, some in places where avalanches don't normally occur. Five feet of snow in five days is difficult to manage. One of these avalanches that occured was around 5,000 cubic yards of snow, that's enough snow to fill 500 large dump trucks.

From what I have heard the pass used to be two lanes, covered by the shed, when it was expanded the money wasn't available to cover both sides in a manner that wouldn't be affected by the weight of accumulated snow.

Anonymous said...

Typical...everyone stands around and watches 1 person do all the work. No wonder it takes so long.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that is amazing. I wonder why one of the most important East/West freeways in the US wasn't designed to avoid closure during heavy snow...Just think how much time/$$$ are being wasted by those that can't pass through this week (I bet it is enough to at least extend this snow shed).

Jeremy Bertrand said...

This video only represents one location that avalanches could occur. Much of that thought went into the latest I-90 project funded by the 2005 Transportation Tax Package.

The I-90 Snoqualmie Pass East project was designed to minimize the impact from these avalanches and rockslides using a combination of solutions. You can read more about it at the project page.

Anonymous said...

Not much has really changed, has it????

Snowplow clearing avalanche at Snoqualmie Pass, 1936 Courtesy of Seattle Museum of History and Industry

SnoqPassUser said...

Thanks for the work! As a former snow operator for ODOT, your photos and videos bring back memories of a past life. Glad it is you folks doing this work. I remember very long hours, brutal conditions and an unappreciating general public. Anonymous is right, not much has changed.

Anonymous said...

I really feel for the guys/gals having to work in those conditions. I am sure they are doing their best.

It would be great if the State was more proactive in replacing outdated public roadway designs (viaduct, 520 bridge, Snoqualmie Pass/I-90, etc). Why must we have a state of emergency before the proper resources are allocated?

Anonymous said...

It's not that the State isn't proactive - they do what they can within the budget they have. A big part of the problem is the voters who approve measures that take away funding - the people who say get everything done with the money you have.

Can you imagine what clearing just that slide cost? Now multiply that several times and you have a budget that is sucked dry. The I-90 project funded by the 2005 Transportation Tax Package will only cover a small portion of the pass - A good step in the right direction, but not enough to cover the cost to "fix" the bulk of the pass.

I know that taxpayer revolt isn't the whole deal, but trust me, no one wants to close the pass. DOT does everything they can 24 hours a day to keep it open. (does this sound too much like I work for DOT?)

Anonymous said...

Chayton (6 yrs old) says, "Big avalance. The construction trucks are working and trying to clear the road. Good work! Please hurry so we can go to the cabin. Be tough and mighty strong"

Anonymous said...

I don't work for the DOT, yet understand that they are doing the best they can given our state's inability to fund our services properly. Thanks Tim Eyman and everyone like him.

snoqpassuser said...

I understand the funding challenges as well as the next guy. Great posts. I just hope that when they open the pass, that the folks making decisions are not pressured into a premature opening for political purposes. The big slide could have just as easily took lives. What is frieght moblity worth then?

CaliforniaGirl said...

The anonymous comment at 2:16 could refer to I80 or I90. I have been over Snoqualmie Pass five times in the last few months, and countless times over Donner Pass.The similarities between the two are amazing. There really is not such thing as an all weather road through the Cascades or the Sierra Nevada. If you live where it snows, get used to it. There will be winter delays, usually caused by the stuff you want to get there to ski on.

Anonymous said...

First, WSDOT does a great job with what they have. Thumbs up to WSDOT!!! Second, All I've seen here so far is tax packages, people won't vote for it, etc. You know why people won't vote for more taxes. Because Wa. State has this huge so called "Rainy Day Fund". Well, you know what, it's not only rainy, it'snowing a pantload! Think about it!

Dale in Maple Valley said...

Hey WSDOT Guys and Gals,

Thank-you very much for putting yourselves out there and dealing with the problems in all of our passes and roads: snow, avalanches, rockslides, washouts and floods, and windstorms knocking down forests. Even volcanoes (remember the Mt. St. Helen's ashfalls? That was a doozy).

No roads: no transport trucks. No transport trucks: no Big Macs, no Starbucks, no big screen TVs, no milk, no clothes, not much of anything at all. Can you say 'Little House on the Prairie"?

So thanks again very very much. Your efforts are vital.

Dale

Anonymous said...

Those photos are amazing... and the video too. Gives you a good sense of just how much snow there actually is on the road when there's an avalanche. Thanks for all the hard work!!

Anonymous said...

I hope all the crews get a well-deserved week in a warm, sunny, dry place when this is all over. GREAT JOB, hang in there!

Anonymous said...

This video is awesome. I'd like to see more like it. Everyone is talking about this. Keep up the good work!

FCTroth said...

As to why the outside half of I90 is not covered by a snowshed, my understanding has always been that that was to allow for the emergency transportation of very large equipment, possibly military, in the case of national disaster.

eastside taxpayer said...

your talking about a 50 mile stretch of road in mountain wilderness. I wonder if the complainers would put up with billions of dollars in rebuilding with years of traffic delays to deal with a few days of inconvenience of detouring to one of the 6 other cross state routes.

Avid Skier! said...

Thank you to all the people on thecrew working hard in this weather. Another cost and complexity people don't think about is the cost of explosives, training for operators and the additional requirements put in place by the Patriot Act that makes the control work aspect more difficult.

Keep up the good work and thanks again!

Anonymous said...

I'd just like to add my thanks to the crews working to clear I-90. Keep up the good work, and keep safe!

Anonymous said...

If we lose 20 million per day when we shut the pass...Don't you think we could build a better snow shed for less..and maybe get more equipment that can handle more snow or maybe hire more people. I live in Cle Elum and work on the westside they should at least open the pass on a schedule so people like me can at least make a living. I drive the pass every day and I can't belive the pass is still closed.. Get trucks from North Bend..Issaquah etc..They are just sitting in their yards!!

Old Randy said...

I think the reason why the eastern snowshed along Lake Keechelus only covers two lanes is simpler than you might think -- next time you drive by -- notice the "1952" printed in the concrete -- when the snowshed was built for US-10 it was only a two lane highway. When the highway was expanded to four lanes in the '60's they saved money by leaving the snowshed as is.

There was a similar snowshed on the westside through the 50's and '60s. During the '70s when they expanded freeway from 4 to 7 lanes, they tore down the old snowshed and replaced it with a tall retaining wall. (MP 50)

Anonymous said...

It is amazing how many people can complain about the pass being closed and do not care of the people that are placing themselves in harms way to get it cleaned up. I live in eastern washington and travel to project on the west side every week. If the state would stop sucking the resources from the rest of the state to fund the Sea/Tac area and provide services to other area these issues might get done. Sorry if you can't make it to your vacation cabin in Clem Elm for a week. Try voting to improve the whole state instead of the west. Thank you to the WSDOT for at least looking out for someone's elses safety and the hard work you are doing on the pass to get it open.

Anonymous said...

i travel the pass almost every weekend and dont see it to be much work to plow the roads. sometimes i see what seems to be "lost plow trucks" here and there along the road as if time were'nt money, i may be wrong but there should be more wsdot help when needed, and less when not needed and obviously we need lots of help at this time. it highly impacts the truckers that rely on the roads to keep america running... "get-er done" people

Anonymous said...

I'm learning to become a civil engineer and this provides great insight on maintenance of an interstate highway.

It is a long process to clear an avalanche due to the time of the sliding snow, plus having multiple snow removal vehicles are counterproductive (results in overlapping snow onto an existing vehicle).

Also, no mountain pass is immune to heavy snows, 5 ft of new snow in 5 days is a lot.

They can't build a new snowshed because the existing shed was built before the interstate was build. I-90 was built in the late 60's into the 1980's. Before I-90, it was a two-lane highway named US 10.
Some of you history buffs would know that before the interstate system, the US highway system was the primary road network.

To design a new shed is not cheap. The only way to replace the shed is to build a completely new one, which means to tear down the old one. But, that results in closing the freeway, due to their important nature, closing the freeway is a bad option.

But rest assured, WSDOT does have a project lined up to solve these problems.

Anonymous said...

I have been realizing the impact of the pass closure as my husband has been unable to return home to me and our young infant. Also, a few of my favorite places have been running out of my favorite things because shipments have been delayed. Some people need to stop complaining and think about the time and energy that these DOT workers have been putting into clearing dangerous hazards. These men and women are also spending countless hours away from their families doing you a service. If mother nature could be controlled we would never have these issues, even with improvements there will still be severe winter weather driving through the mountains. If it bothers people so much look at alternate routes, yes they may not always be faster but they will get you where you want to go. This pass is a luxury that cuts driving time, and it being wilderness we should expect things like this. DOT web site will show you these routes and the conditions, my husband and I have also been looking at these and yes to see family it is worth the extra drive.

Anonymous said...

Great PR for the road crews. It's cool to see the process. I also love how all the armchair experts and clueless critics come out to comment. The reason there are people standing and watching is because the people in the equipment are at high risk, and the observers are there to react in the event they get buried in a follow-on slide. Rocks, trees, and ice (all of which can be in a roadside slide) can all take out that equipment. Please ask yourself if you'd like be be in that loader or blower.... with no one else around...

This year is extremely unusual. The pass normally doesn't sustain this much snow fall. Can you imagine how long it would take the voters in this state to approve budget to build a bullet-proof highwayt that would never get closed due to avalanches?

Please use the time waiting for the pass to open to THINK about what you're saying

Anonymous said...

what we REALLY need to do is ask TIM EIMAN (sp?) what to do..........

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing the videos and comments. Well done, DOT for the blog and the labor to get the pass open. And thanks to the archivist who posted the photo from 1936.

Anonymous said...

I have read the comments posted. I don't even live in Washington State, but good friends of ours do. Shame on those of you who whine and complain because of various problems with I-90. You elected officials, email them or call them with your concerns. Get other voters to join you and make some worthwile recommendations! You can't have it both ways. If you voted NO to avoid additional taxes, etc. Then live with it. If you want essential services, then THINK...where does the money come from? Like some smarter people stated...IF you MUST travel, seek an alternative route. There are others, just get out your maps and plan! If you cannot make a trip, avoid it and go another time! We all have trips that get cancelled, what's your problem? Then again, money today is going elsewhere, even to Iraq and other Mid Eastern Countries! This is where YOU should be communicating with your Congress person. YOU put them in office...YOU take the time to state your case and get on with life. You're still alive...so what's your problem?

tired of whiners said...

Very interesting,and what great work and risk by the WaDOT folks. Per usual too many of the posts are whining,ignorant folks. When we voted down the car tab tax,a major source of funding for highway improvement also went away. The recent gas tax increase is currently being used for routine maintenance, and to fund some relatively easy and life safety improvements.
If all the tax money that was collected in this state stayed in the county it was collected in, then Eastern Washington would not have enough to buy a pot to piss in. King, Snohomish, and Pierce County support the entire rest of the state,including highways.
Why do you choose to flame folks whom are working hard to provide for your safety and convince?
I was wondering why the road is Cleared to the pavement? What would happen if the snow was packed and sanded, then when the temps warm up begin to remove to the bare pavement. Washington State motto- "We expect everything, but will not pay for anything, then we complain"

Anonymous said...

We already pay the highest fuel taxes in the nation. How much more do you need to fix this problem? To replace the shed or build a tunnel will never be acomplished because of all the red tape, tree huggers, DOE, EPA, ect. We just have to live with it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the Great video and Pictures and keep up the good work WSDOT!! I hope you get some rest soon. I lived in WA most of my life and that is the most snow I have seen on Snoqualmie, that I remember. I now live in snowy Eastern Oregon. I know our ODOT guys have had no days off and are working 12 + hours a day and they have been having to close I-84 daily(a major truck route). As for all the whiners, Quit whining! We all make choices about where we live and work and we need to be flexible and have a backup plan for these kind of winters. They used to be the norm is what I hear, this is the worst in 20 years here, but we are adjusting. I know in Oregon the numerous counties and ODOT are already over budget and have warned us there will be no $$ to fix the highways when this is over, let alone extra dollars to build a snow shed. Talk to you congressman. And, next time you see those WSDOT men and women working along the road Give 'em a Brake! and Thank them!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the Great video and Pictures and keep up the good work WSDOT!! I hope you get some rest soon. I lived in WA most of my life and that is the most snow I have seen on Snoqualmie. I now live in snowy Eastern Oregon. I know our ODOT guys have had no days off and are working 12 + hours a day and they have been having to close I-84 daily. I agree with the 10:46 a.m. post, talk to your congressman. As for all the whiners, Quit whining! We all make choices about where we live and work and we need to be flexible and have a backup plan for these kind of winters. They used to be the norm is what I hear, this is the worst in 20 years here, but we are adjusting. I know in Oregon the numerous counties and ODOT are already over budget and have warned us there will be no $$ to fix the highways when this is over, let alone extra dollars to build a snow shed. And, next time you see those WSDOT men and women working along the road Give 'em a Brake! and Thank them!

Anonymous said...

These WSDOT workers are the best. They work up to 15 hours a day, go home, sleep and return to try to reopen your passes so you can make your way to the big city, to make your money and return to your home in the country. All extra equipment in Seattle, Issaquah, Bellevue and other major areas are being sent to the pass day and night. Employees at all locations are on-call to report to the pass as soon as needed. Getting calls at 11pm or later to make what impact on clearing they can. State funding is not meeting the needs that we have across the entire State, let alone I-90. There was a recent report published stating that simple finding. These are among the hardest workers that I know personally. They are devoted to this task and are working to get the end result as soon as possible to relieve stress and monetary impacts. Please remember, slow down, Don't Pass the Plow Trucks and be patient. Sometimes there are more workers that you think there should be, usually when heavy snowfall is expected and doesn't produce. Then, if they weren't there and we had much accumulation, everyone would wonder why they are home with their families and sleeping instead of on the pass. Safety has got to be our first concern in this matter. Families are missing their spouses and parents while they are gone long hours trying to help out people that they will never meet. Smile and thank them.

skyrafter said...

The worst avalanche in U.S. history occured in the Cascades- 96 people died. So until there are very expensive tunnels through the mountains- closures, control work, and cleanup has to happen for safety. It is just a fact of life...

Anonymous said...

What about the $20 million/day with hundreds of truckers sitting at the truck stop waiting for the governor to declare a state of emergency!...has nothing to do with taking a trip to see grandma, its about shutting down the statewide economy for a week due to a poorly designed roadway...a roadway that has been in the same place, experiencing the same snowfall since US10 was built in 1926...It's a Federal roadway so maybe Bush can help.

Anonymous said...

I am making a resolution I-FU92 to impeach the Governor! Tim Eyman

Anonymous said...

WSDOT has a video on YouTube that shows the planned upgrades along the stretch between Hyak and Keetchelus Dam: http://youtube.com/watch?v=F81I8EHtsf4

It looks like they're going to reroute the road to go over the lake where the snow shed is. That should help quite a bit.

Anonymous said...

To all those who are complaining of the lack of snow shed protection through the pass... you should educate yourselves with their website and realize the fact that it's already in the works to improve that spot and others like it. WDOT is just not in the business of bringing you the "McDonald's" type instant gratification in public projects like politicians do... They believe in doing the job right and with so many roads in Washington, a job done right and lives saved is well worth the wait!

Per-Ola said...

Any moutain pass/road will have closures. Only a few of them are attributed to nature (snow slides), far more to just plain stupid drivers.
Driving in snow is an art that you "earn" over time. Once you have the skill, you can drive just as safely on snow as on wet pavement, maybe even safer.

I worked in the French Alps for three years. Snowfall was heavier, roads were narrower, very few 4x4. Still it worked. Everyone got where they needed to be. People used their brains instead of their right foot.

WSDOT salts the pass to oblivion. Salt eats up vehicles, roadway, concrete structures, impacts the sensitive alpine enviroment, but maybe even worse, it gives "everyday drivers" a feel of security - allowing them to barrel down a slippery freeway just as if the sun is shining outside (personally I'd prefer a white snowy roadway over blacktop any day, but know most peole would not be able to handle it).

No, when the pass is "under attack"; slow down, take it easy, keep your distance, drive with your lights on, and just learn. The 90 minute drive in the summer, CAN be 2 day drive in the winter. That is nature, we can only live "with" it, not "control" it.
I think "nature" is one of many reasons we live in the the PNW. It is truly amazing.

After 5 years in Dallas, seeing what havoc rain or sleet could have on traffic, I foolishly thought Seattle drivers actually knew how to drive in the rain and snow. But, I was wrong, dead wrong. Most people still does not have a clue. Too much hurry, not enough of respect, neither for the conditions or other drivers.

Give WSDOT resources and priorities, they are doing the best job they can (in my view, a pretty darn good job). If you want to change their priorities, talk to your legislator. At the end of the day, it is ALL about how we collect and distribute $$$.

WSDOT: Thanks for putting up a blog, sharing information, photos, pictures, and maybe even more importnat, allowing us to "vent".

El Tigre said...

I was surprised to see the snow blower being used. I would think avalanches bring down boulders that could really prang a blower. As it is the snow is compacted by the avalanche and is much harder to cut into than fallen snow. you could hear the engine bogging down from the strain. Thanks for the great videos.

Anonymous said...

First of all thanks to all the DOT crews that keep Snoqualmie clear and safe. You do a great job... most of the time.

Now for the part that confuses me. I'm a resident at Snoqualmie and I have came to notice (by radio scanner monitoring DOT "internal" communications) one very disturbing thing that keeps occuring. Many of the closures have avalanche blasting which concludes around the time it gets dark... that also happens to be around the time of a shift change from what I've gathered.

Even if the blasting is concluded, often times every machine that is capable of snow removal is going at its respected top speed (some as slow as 10MPH) back to the Hyak DOT base to change out crews. The whole thing would seam reasonable to me, but the time required to do this switch is usually measurable in hours instead of minutes. I understand the previous crew may be tired but this seams borderline stupid when clearing many of the small avalanches sometimes only takes 30-60 minutes. I have had many jobs where it is sometimes needed to pull 18 hour shifts, sleep for 6 hours, and do it all over again. Why can't WSDOT maybe do the same two or three days a year?

Jeremy Bertrand said...

With all respect to what can be heard by scanning DOT internal communications, avalanche control work is done when it is necessary.

If there is a window of time when avalanche control can be performed, WSDOT tries to perform this type of work at night, when overall pass traffic volumes are lower.

Since early December, pass crews have been working many long shifts and long weeks. It is an inaccurate statement to say personnel is not asked to work extended shifts in the winter. Shift change is done when the next crew arrives. WSDOT tries to not have crews working additional hours on overtime while a fresh crew is waiting for their equipment to show up, be fueled and inspected for the next 12 hours of operation. During these winter events, the equipment is ran 24-7 and shift change is the most efficient time to refuel and look the equipment over quickly before continuing another 12 hour shift.

Pass operations are extremely complex with multiple work activities being coordinated and performed. At times, crews will not be allowed through a section of roadway until the avalanche danger has been reduced by the control work. We hope this helps increase understanding of pass operations.

Anonymous said...

huh.. informative ..

 

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