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Snoqualmie Pass eastbound, Stevens Pass reopen; 110 inches of snow in past seven days

Trucks wait on the side of Eastbound Interstate 90 near Exit 34, closed over Snoqualmie Pass between North Bend and Ellensburg through the day on Thursday, Dec. 24, 2015. The Washington State Department of Transportation says the status of the pass will be reexamined Thursday evening. More than 100 inches of snow has fallen in the pass in the past seven days, according to WSDOT.
Trucks wait on the side of Eastbound Interstate 90 near Exit 34, closed over Snoqualmie Pass between North Bend and Ellensburg through the day on Thursday, Dec. 24, 2015. The Washington State Department of Transportation says the status of the pass will be reexamined Thursday evening. More than 100 inches of snow has fallen in the pass in the past seven days, according to WSDOT. The Seattle Times

The eastbound lanes of Interstate 90 over Snoqualmie Pass opened Thursday night, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation. The pass was closed until 7 p.m. by heavy snow, trees leaning over the roadway and high avalanche danger, transportation department officials.

The westbound lanes will remain closed indefinitely.

Stevens Pass (U.S. Highway 2) reopened to traffic, after an all-morning closure. The department advises traction tires on all vehicles.

Drivers commiserated about interrupted holiday plans on Twitter.

“Should have just went to El Paso” for the Sun Bowl, one Washington State University Cougar fan wrote.

A WSDOT tweet about the I-90 closure said, “We recognize closing the pass presents a hardship to travelers and don’t do it lightly. Safety has to come first.”

More than 110 inches of snow has fallen in the pass in the past seven days, according to WSDOT. Another 10 to 12 inches of snow was expected through the day, with an additional 7 to 12 inches Thursday night.

Having 25 inches of snow in the past 24 hours, and trees leaning over the roadway and high avalanche risks, led to the closure. Closure points are from Milepost 34 in North Bend to Milepost 106 near Ellensburg.

Snow depths of up to 15 feet have reached the freeway.

A WSDOT blog post says the amount of snow that has fallen on Snoqualmie Pass in the past week is more than a quarter of what would typically fall all winter. New snow hasn’t had a chance to settle and compact, so the chance of avalanches is heightened.

The pass closures come a day after WSDOT advised travelers to wait until Thursday to cross the passes because of heavy snow Wednesday.

In addition to Stevens Pass, a number of alternate routes are available to Eastern Washington, including U.S. Highway 12 over White Pass, where chains are required for all vehicles without all-wheel drive. State Route 14 and Interstate 84 through the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon also are alternatives.

A 4:40 p.m. Amtrak train from Seattle to Spokane showed one ticket available as of 1 p.m. Thursday: A $751 Superliner Bedroom with two bunks and an in-room shower and toilet. More choices were available on a 7:25 a.m. train on Christmas Day.

The amount of snow and the number of passes affected, especially for this time of year, are rare, WSDOT officials said Thursday. While crews clear one avalanche chute, up to 5 feet of new snow will fall at one time into another chute.

Crews are watching some 30 avalanche chutes on the hillsides east of I-90, in sites that have a history of snow or rock slides. Five of these sites are next to the former westbound snowshed, which was demolished in 2014. This site, on a curve, is considered the most difficult area to clear, said spokesman Travis Phelps.

Workers on skis have been planting concussion devices to detonate snowbanks. At other sites, a small cannon is used to lob ordnance into slide zones, he said.

In January 2009, Snoqualmie, Stevens and White passes were all closed for a day because of a high avalanche danger.

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