After five weeks, Washington State Department of Transportation crews swung open the gates to traffic at 11 a.m. Friday, just days after this photo was taken on April 14.
Crews began the clearing process on State Route 20 on March 17. Last year it took crews only three weeks to clear the highway. The earliest opening ever was on March 10, 2005, but two weeks later snow closed the highway for another 10 days, reopening again on April 4. There was one year, 1977, when the highway never closed due to a drought.
“We all live up here and know it’s important for local businesses to have the highway open as soon as it’s safe,” said Don Becker, WSDOT Maintenance Supervisor.
Lots of bicyclists showed up early to have the road to themselves (with the exception of our sweeper trucks) before the 11 a.m. opening for licensed motor vehicles. It was chilly and a little wet and the forecast for later today and tonight is some more thunderstorms.
It can still feel like winter a mile high in the mountains, but at the same time, the colder temperatures also stabilize the snowpack after a week of warm temperatures and a lot of melting.
The late-morning reopening allowed the crew to sweep the 37-mile closure zone for rocks and debris, clear any snow below avalanche chutes and apply sand or deicer as needed. For more information, including a history of opening and closing dates, maps, photos and progress reports on the 2016 opening, visit the North Cascades web page.
While the highway is now open, drivers still should be prepared for winter driving conditions. Forecasts call for thunderstorms.