The weekend blast of wintery weather on State Route 20, the North Cascades Highway, will keep it closed until next spring.
The Washington State Department of Transportation temporarily closed the highway at 10 a.m. Thursday morning Nov. 12, due to heavy snowfall and a forecast for heavy rain, providing a rising potential for avalanches. After today’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. They encountered four avalanches that blocked lanes, two feet of new snow with a layer of ice on top in the chutes and at the summit. The forecast calls for up to four feet of new snow by Wednesday. The determination to make the closure permanent was made as those conditions create an environment which is unsafe for travelers and our crews.
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 below Washington Pass. Avalanches usually close the highway between Thanksgiving and the second week of December. The earliest closure recorded was November 2, 2005. Due to drought and little snow, the highway never closed in 1976.