Extreme snow causes pass closures

Picture courtesy of Washington State DOT Twitter (@wsdot)

Picture courtesy of Washington State DOT Twitter (@wsdot)

Libby Williams, Scene Editor

Record-breaking snow in Ellensburg led to two days of in-person classes being canceled and Snoqualmie Pass being closed, leaving many students still stranded on the west side after winter break.

“It was forecasted to be heavy and this time the forecasters got it right,” the District Six Information Officer for the Washington State Patrol Trooper John Bryant said. He said that snow, ice, slush and avalanche risk all lead to Snoqualmie Pass being closed for a few days.

“Several feet of snow up on the pass made conditions really difficult for the Department of Transportation [DOT] plow drivers and those taking care of the pass to keep up with,” Bryant said. “Also, the change of temperatures has caused some other issues which are even more dangerous, that is, the possibility of avalanche(s) … That’s a big problem that they’re really worried about because it’s obviously dangerous for motorists to drive over, but it’s [also] dangerous for those who are going to clear the roadways and those of us like the troopers who are going to help disabled motorists out.”

Bryant said one way the DOT handles potential avalanches is by knocking snow into the road and plowing it off before it becomes a hazard. He said even a few feet of snow is enough to get a car stuck, so it was important they evaluated conditions before opening the pass to heavy traffic.

“Everyone’s safety is our priority … because when it does open there’s a lot of traffic that’s ready to go both directions,” Bryant said. “Not just students, but people that work every day, a lot of commercial traffic. 

Junior physical education major Madi McAuliffe was stuck in Seattle due to pass closure before the winter storm and made it back to Ellensburg as the snow was starting. She advises those making the drive to proceed with caution. 

“Keep an eye on the weather and don’t take the risk of, ‘Oh, I can totally do it, it’s not that bad,’” McAuliffe said. “It’s bad. There were so many cars in ditches, and it’s scary to see.” 

McAuliffe was able to get a ride from her uncle, and she advised that you go with someone when conditions are bad. 

“Trust your gut and don’t go alone,” she said. 

As of Sunday, the pass has reopened for travel with some restrictions. Trooper Bryant said there are lots of ways people can prepare to stay safe if something were to go wrong.

“You want to have fuel to keep yourself warm in the car. You want to have lots of snacks, lots of water, something to keep you occupied,” he said.

Bryant said it’s important to take it slow, as snow, slush, ice and standing water are all hazards. And, if you see a plow working, try not to pass them.

“That’s the best road there is, right behind the snowplow, you have a product and you have snow being pushed out of the way,” Bryant said. “Once you get ahead of it, you’re in unknown territory on the roads and you don’t know what to expect.”

“The DOT has so many things going on, I check their website all the time,” he said. “It’s got cameras all over Snoqualmie Pass, so you can see ‘Oh the road looks like this, the road looks like that.’”

He said the Washington DOT site will also tell you whether or not you need chains, if oversized vehicles are allowed and other information.

Extreme snowfall led to Snoqualmie, Stevens, White and Blewett passes to be closed this weekend.