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Snow returning to Washington’s mountain passes; major ski areas could open by Christmas

The North Cascades Highway closed for the season on Wednesday, as snow filled avalanche shoots alongside it. The annual closure for safety was the latest in more than a decade.
Washington State Department of Transportation.
The North Cascades Highway closed for the season on Wednesday, as snow filled avalanche shoots alongside it. The annual closure for safety was the latest in more than a decade.

After the driest November in 43 years, precipitation is finally returning to Washington. The North Cascades Highway closed Wednesday – its latest closure in over a decade. The state Department of Transportation shuts it down annually for safety, after snow fills the avalanche chutes that line the highway. About a foot of snow fell this week above 3500 feet.

And KNKX weather expert Cliff Mass says more snow is on the way. He thinks there will be enough to deliver "a Christmas/Hanukkah present for skiers," especially after a system starts up Wednesday that will bring more rain and snow to the region.

“I hope that within one week, all the major areas will be open, at least on a partial basis,” Mass said Friday morning.

He says there has been a major shift in the weather, with a trough of low pressure above us now, replacing the persistent ridge that had locked us into a dry pattern for so long.   

“I’m very optimistic about this winter in terms of rain and snow,” Mass said. “November was very unusual. It was one of the driest Novembers we’ve had in a long time – in 43 years. But I can see the atmosphere is much more mobile now.”

In Washington, Mass says, December snow is always erratic.

“You can’t judge the season by what happens through the middle of December," he said. "So, by the time we get to Christmas, New Year’s – that’s when it should be starting.”

And he notes many ski areas in the region now have the capability to make artificial snow when it gets cold enough but the precipitation is lacking.

“Crystal and Mission Ridge actually have snow-making equipment,” Mass said. “That’s one thing that’s helping that they didn’t have 20 years ago.”

Weather with Cliff Mass airs at 9:02 a.m. Friday, right after BirdNote, and twice on Friday afternoons during All Things Considered. The feature is hosted by KNKX environment reporter Bellamy Pailthorp. Cliff Mass is a University of Washington professor of atmospheric sciences, a renowned Seattle weather prognosticator, and a popular weather blogger. You can also subscribe to podcasts of Weather with Cliff Mass shows, via iTunes or Google Play.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment beat for KNKX, where she has worked since 1999. From 2000-2012, she covered the business and labor beat. Bellamy has a deep interest in Indigenous affairs and the Salish Sea. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University.
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