Overnight snow in the North Cascades did not keep a cross-state highway from celebrating its annual spring opening Tuesday, weeks ahead of schedule.
Highway 20, also known as the North Cascades Highway, opened as scheduled at 11 a.m., the Washington State Department of Transportation said. The 40-mile stretch of highway typically opens in April or early May, but WSDOT feared it might not open until mid-June because there was so much snow this winter.
Tuesday’s opening also meant cyclists can ride the North Cascades portion of US Bike Route 10, a 407-mile ride that traverrses some of the most challenging terrain in the state.
This is the third latest time state Highway 20 has ever reopened. The latest was June 14, 1974 – two years after the highway was finished.
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As if to have the last laugh, Mother Nature dumped more snow on the area Monday night. The National Weather Service issued a winter weather advisory overnight, saying up to a foot of snow could fall at Mount Baker, with snow levels at 3,500 feet. Rainy Pass, one of the mountain passes on the North Cascades Highway, is above 5,400 feet.
Higher temperatures, warm rain and the occasional bit of sunshine helped melt snow on the highway, which loops through eastern Whatcom County.
Crews from the east and west sides of Highway 20 began working April 10 to remove 25 feet of snow piled along the highway.
The highway will remain open until the fall, when avalanche chutes above the highway become too dangerous. That usually happens around Thanksgiving.