Winter storm hammers mountain passes

SNOQUALMIE PASS, Wash. – The snow is relentless across our mountain passes and Friday’s nasty weather is just the beginning.

Driving is a challenge as well. It’s not just the snow, it’s also the wind and it’s having an impact on visibility.

Crews from the Washington State Department of Transportation are working 12-hours shifts trying to keep the pass open.

“I am the shift boss today for Hyak,” said Scott Montgomery.

Montgomery has been working the passes since he was nineteen, and that’s a lot of snowplowing.

“A storm like this, it’s all hands-on deck,” he said.

Sixteen operators and three mechanics are working around the clock to keep I-90 open. The snow has been coming down so hard, sometimes the plow drivers need to pull over to swipe the snow off the tail-lights.

“The vast majority of our closures are simply because people choose to not chain up,” said Montgomery. “They get up here and they’re in way over their heads and their driving abilities isn’t up to speed with what the conditions dictate.”

“You will be driving slower, there will be backups, there will be delays and the potential for closures,” said WSDOT spokesperson Summer Derrey. “Bring clothing, a full tank, food, everything to keep you comfortable for an extended period.”

Only the most senior snowplow drivers get to operate the wing plow, which is a device that swings out to push more snow off the roadway.

But all snowplow drivers need drivers to give them plenty of space.

“It’s the people darting in and out of plow trucks, passing on the right where you can see the truck is plowing snow,” said Montgomery. “That’s where we really start running into problems.”

While truckers and others chained up well before reaching the summit east bound, WSDOT says drivers should be prepared to continue going through heavy snow and wind likely past Ellensburg.

“As long as you keep your head on a swivel, watch those diesels because they just, they’re trying to make the lanes,” said Jaysen Towers from Lake Stevens. “They’ll take you right out, you just stay out of the way is what you need to do.”

Not only is the snow heavy Friday, it’s expected to continue through Saturday morning.

Drivers are urged to pack an emergency kit with blankets, food and water. Even those driving a four-wheel or all-wheel drive vehicle are required to carry chains.