Heavy snow forces another brief closure of Snoqualmie Pass

Heavy snow forces another brief closure of Snoqualmie Pass
SNOQUALMIE PASS -- Heavy snow forced state transportation officials to shut down Interstate 90 over Snoqualmie Pass for avalanche control work for about an hour Tuesday morning.

Fresh off dealing with nearly 6 feet of snow last week, the mountains are facing another 1-2 feet of snow another storm moves into the area.

At least one person was injured when a van from the Yakima Veterans Affairs Hospital spun out in the westbound lanes near the pass and crashed into a median.

Troopers said the van with was headed to Seattle with five patients who had scheduled medical appointments.

Firefighters who arrived to assist at the crash scene said the weather conditions are also making it tough for them to even respond to collisions.

"It's getting to be a challenge just to get to the fire station and get the rigs out of the fire station," said Snoqualmie Pass Fire and Rescue Chief Matt Cowan.

In addition to the heavy snow, strong, gusty west winds as high as 25-30 mph are expected, making for blowing and drifting snow, and potentially reducing visibilities to near zero.

A Winter Storm Warning is in effect for the Cascades through Noon Wednesday, and an avalanche watch has also been issued.

Snowfall intensity will increase through the day, becoming heavy around early afternoon Tuesday and last through Wednesday morning, with fresh storm totals ranging around 18 to 24 inches.

While drivers should expect sporadic closures due to heavy snow, driving conditions will be extremely challenging even when the mountain passes are open. If you must go, carry chains and makes sure you have food, water and blankets inside just in case you end up having to wait out an extended closure.

You can also call 511 from any phone to get the latest conditions.

The transportation department says more than 30 feet of snow have fallen this winter at the pass and crews have removed the equivalent of 200,000 dump truck loads of snow.

Last week, the pass was closed for most of several days while crews struggled to clear huge amounts of snow. The pass closure was the longest since a storm shut down traffic over the pass for about 84 hours between Dec. 28, 1996, and Jan. 2, 1997, DOT spokeswoman Alice Fiman said.

Down in the lowlands, wind is the larger story. A Wind Advisory has been expanded and extended as gusty winds as high as 45-60 mph will continue to push through the area this afternoon and evening in wake of a strong front. The advisory is now in effect until 9 p.m., and now covers all of the interior locations of Western Washington, including the greater Seattle/Tacoma/Everett metro area.

(Basically, the only place it's not in effect is along the coast, but only because since the coast regularly sees 45-55 mph winds in the winter, so they need stronger winds before warranting any kind of wind advisory.)

Here are some peak gusts as of 1 p.m.:

* Oak Harbor: 57 mph
* Sand Point (Seattle) NOAA Station: 55 mph
* Bellingham: 52 mph
* Everett: 48 mph
* Hoquiam: 46 mph
* Sea-Tac Airport: 45 mph
* Friday Harbor: 44 mph
* Alki Beach (West Seattle): 43 mph
* Seattle (West Point/Magnolia): 41 mph
* Forks: 41 mph

So not too far off the charts for a regular winter storm around here, but noticeable. The wind will gradually taper off through the late evening and early nighttime hours. Highs will make the mid 40s.

The lowlands get a break Wednesday with just scattered showers, but strong west wind in the upper levels will keep the snow going in the mountains through the day. Then, a second storm will roll through again on Thursday in about the same capacity for both the lowlands and the mountains.

So if you have to get over the mountains, it might be best to try and go Monday, or wait until later in the week, although the extended forecast does not provide too much relief.