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Tips on winter driving from WSDOT and Washington State Patrol

This past storm left several inches of snow in the Washington state passes, which means drivers need to think about how to drive in winter conditions well before they leave the house. As that snow moves to lower elevations, wind storms blow through, and rivers rise, we all need to be prepared for any conditions.

KIRO Radio reporter Tracy Taylor talked to WSDOT’s Meagan Lott (who manages the area of Snoqualmie Pass) and Doug Adamson (who manages the Olympic Peninsula area), and Trooper Rick Johnson with the Washington State Patrol.

Lott said WSDOT crews have spent the past weeks preparing for winter weather conditions by getting plows and deicers ready for snow. She said the forecast calls for a wetter, cooler winter up at the pass.

“Drivers just need to make sure that they’re prepared,” Lott said.

Adamson, who noted that traffic volumes are slowly returning to normal, said the pandemic has taught us all that there are other options if you need to get things done or visit with friends or family. Conducting life virtually may also come in handy when weather conditions make it too risky to drive.

“Since a lot of people already have the ability to work from home, fire up that laptop if it works for you,” Adamson said.

While Trooper Johnson doesn’t recall a time he’s cited someone for not carrying chains in their vehicle, he did emphasize that it’s important to keep that tool somewhere handy during winter months. Chains required over the passes means just that.

“Abide by those advisories, they’re there for a reason,” Johnson said.

Preparedness is really the key in keeping traffic flowing smoothly over the mountain passes, Johnson said. Make sure you have the right tires, good tread depth, and extra water, food, and blankets in case you get stuck in a closure.

Besides snow and ice on the roads, Adamson reminded Tracy that the other weather hazard drivers are often faced with is a wind storm.

“On the Hood Canal Bridge, for example, it can be closed for six hours at a time,” Adamson said. “I personally keep an extra blanket, I have an extra charger for my phone, I make sure I have a first aid kit, and with COVID, I have a mask and hand sanitizer in case I have to walk over to a store.”

Additionally, if there’s a road closure sign posted, heed that warning. It doesn’t mean drivers should try to go around it because their driveway is only 100 yards away. Especially during flood season, that entire roadway could have washed away.

Finally, Adamson asked that drivers are patient with the WSDOT plows, which are essentially oversized loads. He said some of those plow drivers are traveling 40-100 miles with a lot of things happening inside the cab to clear snow. Being patient is key. There have been times plow drivers have noticed an impatient driver will make a dangerous decision to pass a slow plow, only to end up stuck in a ditch three miles down the road.

“You don’t win if you get tangled up with a plow,” Trooper Johnson emphasized.

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