Tips for Safe Travel: Spring Weather

Photo of April 9 collisions by Ashley Collier // The Watchdog.

Spring is here, which means the everlasting overcast skies and constant rain that looms in Western Washington is finally letting up. As the sun comes out alongside the change in season, people begin to assume that weather conditions are no longer a cause of worry for drivers. Because of this, many are caught off guard when they encounter a still-winterlike environment at higher elevations. Spring is known for its wild weather phenomena, which can be seen throughout the Pacific Northwest taking the form of snowstorms and freezing conditions, even in later spring months. Sudden frigid temperatures make for icy roads, and often cause traffic upsets on major highways. Depending on where you’re driving, it’s even possible to witness steady precipitation morph into slushy snow and ice. Loftier elevations tend to procrastinate when seasons change. At higher altitudes, spring and summer are often shorter; beginning and ending quite abruptly. March and April act as if they don’t want to let go of winter yet, but enjoy confusing the weather reporters by throwing in a 70-degree day here and there. Bluebird days can quickly turn into white-out conditions, surprising unprepared drivers and increasing the potential risk of accidents. It’s important to always expect the unexpected, especially when traveling through Washington’s major mountain passes.

On April 9, Snoqualmie Pass was unexpectedly closed both eastbound and westbound due to multiple collisions following heavy snowfall. Many were taken by surprise with the abrupt change of weather on a seemingly quiet day. The pass was closed for several hours while crews worked to plow roads and clear wreckage, leaving those stuck on the highway with no other option but to wait in their cars. In this sort of situation, it’s hard to tell how long you’ll be waiting for roads to reopen, which is why it’s important to plan ahead. It’s a good idea to have a full tank of gas and supplies such as food and water, just in case you run into unanticipated weather or pass closures. The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) recommends carrying an emergency car kit containing necessities such as flashlights, blankets or extra jackets, winter travel gear including chains and jumper cables, and essentials, notably extra cash, snacks and water.

Spring weather is unpredictable, often proving the forecast wrong. Before driving through Washington’s major mountain passes, consider checking current road conditions using the WSDOT webpage to ensure you’re prepared for the trip. You can also sign up for email or text updates from WSDOT to get the most up-to-date traffic and weather information.