Dozens of snow-laden trees slumped over the roadway since Saturday shed the excess snow on their branches, straightened, and are no longer threatening to fall onto US highway 2 east of Stevens Pass.
Warmer than forecast temperatures and a steady breeze overnight caused most of the snow and ice on tree branches to release. By Christmas morning, no more trees had fallen. With continued warmer temperatures, a breeze and much lighter than expected snowfall, by mid-afternoon WSDOT maintenance crews determined the threat of falling trees had diminished to the point that the highway could reopen. The 35 mile closure zone was opened to traffic at 3:15 p.m., 69 hours after the closure began last Saturday. Crews will continue to monitor conditions closely.
“Under normal conditions this snow-sloughing process goes on daily all winter,” said WSDOT regional administrator Dan Sarles. “The conditions over the past four days produced a falling tree threat that we’ve not seen here before.” “We’re pleased to reopen sooner than we thought we would be able to and have cancelled the helicopter back-wash test to clear snow from the branches since it removed itself naturally.”
The forecast for 8 to 11” of new snow on Christmas Day failed to materialize. Only 3” had fallen at the summit by 4 p.m., further reducing the potential for making trees unstable. The forecast for the next few days includes little precipitation.
When the pass reopened, a light snow was falling; there was compact snow and ice in places on the highway with traction tires recommended and oversize loads prohibited.