The Snowy Wonders of Topography

This is our fourth winter living in Snoqualmie, but it ceases to amaze me just how dramatic the affect topography plays on snowfall accumulation here. At the extreme local level, we live on a ridge at an elevation of 900 feet above sea level. Off the ridge, less than two miles away, the elevation is roughly 450 feet. We routinely get snow at our house and can literally drive down the hill to where there's not a trace of snow. Turn around to face the ridge and you can see the snow-line just feet from where you stand. Everything above a certain height is snow, everything below is rain.

This sounds rather obvious, but growing up in the northeast you kind of get used to the "snow-line" not having anything to do with elevation, but rather latitude. Everything north of Philadelphia gets snow, points further south gets rain.

I'll admit the change in snow accumulation between my development and the town itself is only a matter of 14 inches and 6 inches (cumulative for the year) and that it's not very dramatic. What is dramatic is the difference between the accumulation at our house and that at the mountain pass, 27 miles up the road.

Like I said, I figure we received a grand-total of 14 inches of snow at our house so far this year (elevation 900 feet). Maybe an inch or two more.

Snoqualmie Pass lies 27 miles to the east and is rapidly closing in on 30 feet of total snow accumulation for the year. The pass lies at 3,200 feet above sea level. And it's only February 1st.

From the Associated Press:

Gov. Chris Gregoire declared a state of emergency Thursday for 15 counties, mostly in snowbound Eastern Washington, which has been nearly cut off from the state’s west side by mountain avalanches and paralyzed by inability to get all the snow off streets and highways.

"The snowfall this month has been relentless and this proclamation will help counties with response efforts,” Gregoire said in a statement.Long shutdowns of Interstate 90 over Snoqualmie Pass, the main east-west route across the Cascade Mountains, have increasingly disrupted the state’s economy, the governor said. Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond said 7,000 trucks cross the pass each day, about one quarter of total traffic on the pass.

The pass remained closed a second day with no estimated time for reopening after an avalanche about 150 feet wide buried the eastbound lanes about 2 a.m. Friday, department spokeswoman Erin Bogenschutz said. More than five feet of snow has fallen this week and the National Weather Service predicted another 4 to 10 inches by 4 p.m.

The pass was closed for 28 hours ending Wednesday morning because of heavy snow and avalanches. Less than six hours later, another slide hit two cars and the freeway was closed again. No one was injured.

An avalanche 150 feet wide? People struggle to escape avalanche on skis. You can't even dodge that one in a car!

Snoqualmie Pass received 172 inches of snow in December. According to WSDOT the pass has received 317 inches of snow this season as of noon on Wednesday. It's dumped another two feet since then (and nobody has been able to play in it since the Interstate has been closed).

It's hard to believe that just two winters ago several ski resorts in the area never even opened for more than a couple of days due to an utter lack of snow. And now, this? I've pretty much lost interest in sliding down mountains on boards and skis, but damn if this doesn't make me want to lace up the boots and get out there soon. Then again, part of the reason I lost interest is that my snowboard sucks in the powder and I don't feel like buying another snowboard.

Oh well, the snowshoeing will be good... once the avalanche hazard drops to acceptable levels. My guess is that it will be safe to go back out there sometime in June.

In other news, I'm going to miss the annual discussion of water conservation due to "lower than expected snowpacks". I suspect many of the farmers in eastern Washington are considering abandoning their apple orchards and converting their fields to rice paddies as we speak. Or cranberries.

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