Friday, March 13, 2015

Light snowpack throws WSDOT a softball

By Summer Derrey

We were tossed a softball, not a snowball, this winter. The light snowpack throughout Washington has contributed to reduced closures, spinouts and collisions on state highways. There was less wear to the roadway surface from chains, deicer and plows. Fewer storms also meant less overtime pay to maintenance crews.

The restrooms near the summit of Chinook Pass
are usually covered in snow this time of year - but not this year.

Another advantage – seasonally closed passes are on track to reopen earlier than normal. Cayuse Pass is tentatively set to open Friday, March 27, and Chinook Pass a week later on Friday, April 3. North Cascades Highway will follow suit around mid-April - or sooner.

About three feet of snow covers the summit of Chinook Pass.
With significantly less snow, avalanche crews haven’t blasted the slopes once this year. In an average season, they would have performed avalanche control on Snoqualmie and Stevens passes dozens of times by now.

Snowpack on the summit of Chinook Pass is down
about 10 feet from the seasonal average.

Here’s a look at the snowpack statewide as of March 1:

Current snowpack/average
  • Snoqualmie Pass: 14 inches / 90 inches
  • Chinook Pass: 65 inches / 157 inches
  • Cayuse Pass: 18 inches / 180 inches
  • Stevens Pass: 33 inches / 99 inches
  • Washington Pass: 54 inches / 108 inches
So far, the 2014 – 2015 winter season is shaping up to be the lightest snowfall on record for Snoqualmie. And there are very similar stories statewide. 

Minimal avalanche danger will speed up the clearing process.
You may be wondering if there is a financial gain to less maintenance resources spent this winter. Between the really heavy winters, the in-between winters and the lighter years like this one, the money seems to about balance out. And winter may not be over yet – remember last spring?

The slight reprieve also gave crews a chance to catch up on routine maintenance and refresh on safety training. That way, when the real winter comes, hopefully next year – we’ll be ready to play hardball.

Visit our website for more information about Cayuse and Chinook passes and North Cascades Highway. Photos of the Chinook Pass reopening effort are available on Flickr.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So WSDOT is claiming this will be worse than 2005?