Here's a rundown on what the avalanche crew found on Tuesday. Even though the peak avalanche period runs through the next month or more - there's reason to be optimistic it might be open before May. (But Please Don't start asking about the opening weekend of fishing season!)
SR 20 reopening targeted to start March 25
If weather cooperates, it might not take a full six weeks to clear the North Cascades Highway this year
TWISP – The spring reopening effort will begin a few days after the first day of spring as it has for the last half-dozen years, but there's some optimism that SR 20 could be open before the first of May, this year. On Tuesday, Washington State Department of Transportation avalanche control specialists from Stevens Pass ventured up and over the North Cascades from the Early Winters closure point on the east side as far as Rainy Pass on the west.
Avalanche control chief Mike Stanford and forecaster/technician Harlan Sheppard stopped their snowmobiles to measure depths below more than two dozen avalanche chutes and other sites. "There's still more winter coming," said Stanford, "So, I expect we'll have more snow by the end of March, but what we found this week was less than we had at this time the last two years, and at some locations, almost half as much." Besides finding most of the highway covered with 3 to 5 feet of snow, Stanford said the snow piles below the avalanche chutes "had less rocks and trees in them."
Snow at the summit of Washington Pass measured about 5 feet deep compared to 7 and a half feet last year, while snow was 5 and a half feet deep at Rainy Pass, compared to 8 feet last year. Snow piles in the Liberty Bell avalanche zone ranged from 25 to almost 40 feet compared to 35 to nearly 60 feet in 2012.
The highway closed for the winter Nov. 20. It typically opens by early May. The earliest opening ever was March 10, 2005. One drought year, four years after the highway first opened in 1976, it remained open all winter. In 2011, clearing couldn't start until April 11, due to avalanches, and it didn't open until May 25. Last year work started March 26 and the highway opened May 10.
Visit the North Cascades web page:
and the North Cascades 2013 Flickr - photo site:
I'll send an update as we get closer to the end of the month.