Saturday, December 29, 2012

Snoqualmie Pass

Not only am I a bit of a weather buff but I'm also a bit of a geography nerd.

The other day (okay, Thursday) I was driving to Seattle.  Between where I live and Seattle is the Cascade Mountain Range.  So you have to go over a "pass."  The lowest pass in Washington State (other than the Columbia River Gorge) is Snoqualmie Pass (where Interstate 90 crosses the mountains).

Now Snoqualmie Pass is only 3,022 feet above sea level.  Growing up in the high mountain valleys of Idaho, this doesn't seem very high.  It's lower than the Snake River Valley at Idaho Falls (4,700 feet).  Last summer I went over a pass in Idaho at 7,161 feet (that's higher than the highest point east of the Mississippi).  So Snoqualmie Pass isn't that high.  But what it is is very close to the ocean.  As Wikipeadia says:
Snoqualmie Pass as it climbs into the Cascades passes through a micro-climate characterized by considerable precipitation, and at times hazardous conditions for travelers. The annual rainfall is over 100 inches per year, snowfall is over 400 inches per year. The number of days with any measurable precipitation is 170 or more per year.
Over 400 inches of snow!  That's 33 1/3 feet or a three story building.  And all of that has to be removed from the road.  Sometimes the plows can't keep up and then this happens:
(if you can't read the orange sign it says "All Vehicles: Chains Required").  That means you have to put chains on your drive tires for traction.

The State Patrol bases their requirements (it seems) on the lowest common denominator: the Seattle driver who can't drive in snow.  On the day pictured above, there was no need for chains; the road was not that bad.  But the State Patrol decided they were needed.  And it's a $500 fine if you get caught with out them.

So while Snoqualmie Pass isn't that high, it is snowy.

And it's higher than the highest point in these states: Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin.

Oh, and Thursday when I drove over the pass: bare and wet, no restrictions.

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