North Cascades Highway is open (one week early)

Friday, April 24, 2009

I arrived to work on Wednesday (April 22) to learn that we were going to be ready to open the North Cascades Highway at 8 p.m. on Friday, April 24, one week earlier than predicted. This caught me (and many others) by surprise because up until then I had only heard that we were aiming for a May 1 opening. This was exciting news and was going to make a lot of highway users very happy.

Why were we able to open a week earlier than we thought? Because of the warm temperatures. Even though initially the warm temperatures were causing avalanches and making it very difficult and dangerous for our crews to clear the highway, it ended up helping us more than it hurt us. The warm weather moved (melted) far more snow in a very short amount time than we could have ever done with our snow blowers. Consequently, when the avalanche danger stabilized, we were able to blow through the remaining snow very quickly.

Opening the highway on Friday, April 24 will make many anglers very happy because it's just in time for the opening weeking of fishing season.

Liberty Bell Mountain - SR 20, North Cascades Highway

Plowing through the 37 miles of snow this year only took four weeks; two weeks less than last year.

When the gates swing open, drivers should find the road conditions bare and dry or bare and wet across the entire route. The weather forecast calls for temperatures in the mid 40s, clouds and a freezing level around 4,500 feet. There is a possibility of some rain forecast Saturday through Monday.

Over the last 10 years, the pass has reopened for traffic between March 10 and May 7. The latest opening was June 14, 1974. The reopening effort has taken from as little as two weeks to as many as eight weeks. The highway never closed during the drought winter of 1976-77. Updates and photos of the annual spring reopening are posted on the WSDOT SR 20 web page, www.wsdot.wa.gov/traffic/passes/northcascades.

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