Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Breaking News -- Major Avalanches Hit the Cascades

New rain on top of deep light snow has caused massive avalanches throughout the Pacific Northwest today. The following was posted on the Seattle Times webpage:

At the Summit East ski area at Hyak on Snoqualmie Pass, a massive slide brought down a cascade of dirt, snow and trees that took out power lines and at least one chair lift and slammed debris into houses and cottages below.

It wasn't immediately known whether anyone was missing in the slide or if there had been any injuries.

The landslide occurred just before noon, as state transportation workers were busy clearing snow and debris from the pass, which has been closed all day because of the high avalanche danger.

"It happened right outside our front door," Don Whitehouse, a regional administrator with the DOT, said from inside the department's Hyak maintenance facility, on the east side of the summit. "It took out a chair lift, and one home may have been knocked off its foundation."

He estimated the slide was at least 400 to 500 feet across.

"There was snow, but it's mostly dirt that slid down the ski slope," Whitehouse said. "We're not in imminent danger here, but it does look like a few houses were involved."

The roads through all three major passes — Snoqualmie, Stevens and White — were closed this morning due to avalanches and standing water on the road, according to the state Department of Transportation.

The state said Snoqualmie Pass will remain closed through the day until conditions improve.

Meagan McFadden, a DOT spokeswoman, said maintenance employees are being evacuated between mile posts 47 and 53 — from Denny Creek to about a mile west of the summit — as a safety precaution.

"It's really unstable," she said of conditions at the pass, where heavy rain continues to fall.

"Natural avalanches are occurring all over the pass," she said. With the rain, the soil is "becoming more saturated" and more prone to sliding.

In related news, we only have five spots left on this weekend's avalanche courses. Check out what you can learn, here.

--Jason D. Martin

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That is crazy. This year will be one for the record books in avalanches!