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Snowy Hwy. 2 remains closed by worst conditions in 30 years

Published On: Dec 24 2012 12:28:17 PM CST
Updated On: Dec 24 2012 02:20:27 PM CST
Stevens Pass snow

Dan Farmer of the state Department of Transportation says conditions at Stevens Pass are the worst in 30 years.

STEVENS PASS, Wash. -

Travelers heading over the Cascade Mountains are facing major detours just two days before Christmas after transportation officials were forced to close Highway 2 over Stevens Pass.

Falling trees along the highway have killed one couple and seriously injured nearly a dozen other people over the past three days.

Conditions are so bad that the state Department of Transportation has closed the highway from Stevens Pass all the way to the west end of Leavenworth to help prevent any more tragedies.

"I've heard the same comment over and over - they've never seen this kind of condition in 30 years here," says Dan Farmer of the state DOT.

Trees were still falling over the highway on Sunday under the weight of heavy, wet snow. DOT crews are working to clear those trees off the highway - but until conditions change, Highway 2 will remain closed over a snowy Stevens Pass.

Some stuck travelers called the closure "frustrating."

But others were more philosophical.

"This is winter in the Cascades - what do we expect?" said one motorist.

Some drivers were simply hoping for a day trip across the mountains - but not any more. They're not up for the extended drive across Snoqualmie or Blewett Pass.

Crews say the road conditions are driveable over Stevens Pass, but the danger is from large trees covered in ice and snow creating treacherous conditions.

"What we're seeing is, certain species are uprooting and falling over, and other species are just snapping mid-stalk and just tumbling over," says Farmer.

On Friday, a large tree came down on an SUV with a family of six inside, killing a Bothell couple and injuring their four children. Then, on Saturday, a car with five people inside slammed into a fallen tree, injuring everyone inside the vehicle.

“This series of storms has been remarkable,” said Dan Sarles, WSDOT regional administrator for the North Central Region. “The snow is unusually heavy and wet, snapping and uprooting trees at a rate we haven’t seen in decades.”

Highway 2 carries an average of 5,000 vehicles across the pass every day. During the closure, drivers who usually take Highway 2 must detour to Highway 97 Blewett Pass, to connect to Interstate 90 or drivers can take I-90 Snoqualmie Pass.

At Stevens Pass ski resort, occupancy is down since skiers from Eastern Washington can't access the mountain. Meanwhile, employees are stuck.

"I've been up here since yesterday morning at 7:30," says one worker who lives in Leavenworth, whose 40-minute commute has turned into an hours-long nightmare. "I was frustrated yesterday. I'm beyond frustrated now."

Meanwhile, transportation officials say they will reassess the highway closure on Monday morning.

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