Weather News

With this forecast, WSDOT is ‘getting ready for winter across the board‘

If you haven’t had your fill of the North Cascades high country this season, it might be too late.

Weekend snow could close the final stretch of Mount Baker Highway to Artist Point, a popular tourist vista and the trailhead for several mountain hikes.

Andrea Petrich, spokeswoman for the Washington state Department of Transportation, said the forecast might mean an early winter closure.

“It likely would” close Artist Point for the season, Petrich said in an interview with The Bellingham Herald.

“It’s that time of year. If snow does fall, we’ll likely close the gate for the safety of travelers. We’ll also be watching the forecast and we’ll have crews ready for the rest of the road,” she said.

Meteorologists at the National Weather Service in Seattle issued a special weather statement Wednesday for the North Cascades, calling for 2 to 6 inches of snow above 4,000 feet.

“Persons planning on going into the higher terrain this weekend should be prepared for winter-like conditions,” the weather service said in an online statement.

While it’s snowing the mountains, Bellingham and the Whatcom County lowlands should see partly sunny to sunny skies but sharply cooler temperatures — with daytime highs barely reaching 60 degrees.

That unseasonably cold weather will last into next week, forecasters said.

Mount Baker Highway — which is state Highway 542 — is plowed through the winter to just above the Mt. Baker Ski Area, which has a base elevation of 3,500 feet.

But a gate is closed for safety reasons just below the Heather Meadows lodge, and snow is allowed to accumulate on the final 2.7 miles of road that twists and turns to Artist Point at an elevation of 5,220 feet.

Weekend snowfall isn’t likely to close the North Cascades Highway east to Winthrop just yet, Petrich said.

“We’ll keep that route open until the avalanche chutes fill,” she said.

WSDOT crews closed the road to Artist Point on Oct. 28 last year.

Some 538 inches of snow fell over the 2018-2019 season, according to records from the Mt. Baker Ski Area. Average snowfall is 641 inches.

“We’re getting ready for winter across the board,” Petrich said. “ We hope drivers do, too, by making sure that they have an emergency kit” and by checking for wear on windshield wipers and tires.

Robert Mittendorf covers civic issues, weather, traffic and how people are coping with the high cost of housing for The Bellingham Herald. A journalist since 1984, he’s also a volunteer firefighter for South Whatcom Fire Authority.