Winter's interlude enables ITD crews to regroup
Conditions improved this week on many of Idaho’s highways, thanks to a short reprieve from the weather. But the calendar – and history – suggests winter has not run its full course yet.
U.S. 12 remained closed between Lowell and Lolo Pass as crews remove avalanche debris from the highway. They made significant progress the previous week and hoped to restore traffic early this week. But the discovery Tuesday of two new large avalanches will extend the closure into a third week.
The avalanches were found as crews returned to an area that had been restricted because of hazardous conditions and the threat of major new snowfall. The snowstorm forecast for Feb. 2-4 was less severe than expected, enabling crews to return to the western edge of avalanche zone. Four avalanches occurred in the area Jan. 31 and Feb. 1.
Avalanche experts warned against entering the most vulnerable area – between mileposts 127 and 137 – based on forecasts of heavy snow last weekend. When ITD crews returned, they found an avalanche about 20 feet high covering a 50-foot section of the highway at milepost 133.
A second avalanche of about 30 feet deep covers 80 feet of U.S. 12 at milepost 132, extending past the highway and into the Lochsa River.
“Unfortunately, clearing those avalanches will delay our efforts to reopen the highway. The closure is longer than we had hoped for, and we’re running into more than we expected,” Hoff said.
“If conditions work in our favor, we could have the highway open late this weekend, but we’re at the mercy of the weather, and it has been somewhat unpredictable the past few weeks.”
Until the highway reopens, motorists must use Interstate 90 in northern Idaho or take I-15 to Idaho Falls and travel I-86 and I-84 across southern Idaho. The Lochsa Lodge, located about 12 miles west of Lolo Pass, remains accessible from the east for passenger vehicles only.
Avalanches also prompted the closure early this month of U.S. 89 near Montpelier.
Most of the other trouble areas that hampered travel since early January were relatively calm this week, although winds and drifting snow continued to force isolated highway closures in eastern Idaho.
The break allows ITD crews to catch their collective breaths and assess the impact of this year’s storms. Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter designated about six Idaho counties as disaster areas because of storm damage.
A number of ITD snowplows have been damaged in crashes this winter, including a 10-wheel dump truck in District 5 that slid down an embankment after avoiding a vehicle that encroached on its lane. There were no serious injuries.
Inspectors were contacted to assess damage resulting from the collapse of a snow roof over ITD housing units at Powell. The extent of damage to the manufactured housing is undetermined.