EVERETT — Three major mountain passes linking Eastern and Western Washington remained closed Friday due to heavy snow and avalanche danger.
It’s unlikely they’ll reopen until at least Sunday.
The week’s weather caused Gov. Jay Inslee to declare a state of emergency. According to a news release, state and local agencies are coordinating to assess the damage and start repairs. And the Washington State Military Department activated the State Emergency Operations Center.
Meanwhile, some Snohomish County residents have been stuck on the east side of the Cascades.
Laura Page, owner of Looking Glass Coffee in Snohomish, rented an Airbnb in Leavenworth for a four-day work retreat with nine employees. The trip is lasting longer than expected.
“We were supposed to leave on Thursday and go back home, but that’s when the passes were closed,” Page said. “We’re just stuck for a few more days. We’re making the best of it.”
For Looking Glass supervisor Abbi Stempak, the multi-day pass closure is unprecedented.
“I’ve never seen all the passes closed at once, especially for more than a day,” she said.
Stempak said she’ll miss a flight to Hawaii on Saturday but was able to book a new one in a few weeks.
As they wait to return home, Page said, she and her colleagues were killing time by playing board games and enjoying more than 3 feet of snow that dumped on Leavenworth on Thursday.
Up higher, rain has followed the record-breaking snowfall, creating serious avalanche risk for drivers and crews working to clear the roads.
State Department of Transportation spokesperson Lauren Loebsack said conditions at Stevens Pass were too dangerous Friday for crews to begin avalanche control work along U.S. 2. As part of the work, crews use explosives to trigger controlled avalanches, reducing hazards for travelers.
“The rain is creating additional instability (on mountain slopes) because it weighs everything down,” Loebsack said. “Since it is still actively raining, we are being really careful about where we go into.”
Friday evening, the Northwest Avalanche Center rated avalanche risk as “considerable” on both sides of Stevens Pass.
Delays reopening the passes have had more to due with dangerous conditions, rather than staffing, Loebsack said. However, state road workers in the region had smaller crews than usual due to COVID-19 quarantines and workers who left their jobs in response to Gov. Jay Inslee’s vaccine mandate. Over 400 Department of Transportation employees quit or were fired because of the mandate, The Seattle Times reported in October.
Stevens Pass closed early Thursday, shortly after the two other major east-west winter routes shut down: Snoqualmie Pass on I-90 and White Pass on Highway 12.
Leavenworth Mayor Carl Florea declared a disaster in the city Friday. Snowfall spurred city-wide concern for safety and structure stability, the city announced this week.
City spokesperson Christie Voos said she has spoken with longtime Leavenworth locals who say they’ve never seen such intense snow in the area.
“None of them have ever seen snow like this,” Voos said. “Partially because it was so much at once. Partially because it was so light and fluffy, so plowing was difficult. This is a lot for us to handle.”
The weather is predicted to dry out through the weekend, National Weather Service meteorologist Maddie Kristell said.
This winter has been more extreme than what she’s seen in the past, Kristell said.
“We certainly can say that in terms of impact, this season’s weather has been more impactful on passes and rivers,” she said.
Kristell urged drivers to heed caution and to never drive on flooded roads.
In Everett, temperature highs in the mid-40s and lows in the mid-30s were in the forecast for Saturday and Sunday. A 40% chance of rain was predicted during the day Saturday.
Then, a little change of pace in the forecast Sunday: Clear skies and sun.
Ellen Dennis: 425-339-3486; email@example.com; Twitter: @reporterellen.