Winter weather increases need for traction tires in WA

Oct 31, 2022, 3:11 PM


Drivers stopped to put on tire chains as winter storm drops snow along Highway 138 (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

To quote Game of Thrones, winter is coming, and you’ll need traction to stay on the road.

Starting Nov. 1, the use of studded tires can resume, which can be used up until March 31, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT).

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Studded tires remain legal but are not encouraged since these tires cause considerable road damage over time and cost taxpayers more money to maintain roadways. Studded tires also do not satisfy state chain requirements and if chains are required to cross mountain passes, chains must be used even on studded tires.

The season’s first snows in the mountains usually find a lot of vehicles and motorists not fully prepared for significant winter weather driving conditions across the passes. That was the case last night when snow found its way to Snoqualmie Pass. Here is a review of the WSDOT terms used when wintery weather hits Cascade pass highways.

Approved traction tires include an M&S or All Season label, or a Mountain/Snowflake on the tires. Installing chains makes any tire a traction tire.

When traction tires are ‘advised,’ traction tires are not required but recommended. In addition, oversized loads are prohibited and over-sized vehicles may be restricted from roadways during severe winter weather conditions.

Traction tires ‘required’ means passenger vehicles must use approved traction tires. Chains are required on all vehicles over 10,000 gross vehicle weight and all vehicles and loads over 10,000 gross vehicle weight rating, including large passenger trucks and SUVs.

If the snow is really coming down and accumulating, chains may be required. When tire chains are required, vehicles must install chains to continue traveling on the roadway. Four-wheel and all-wheel drive vehicles do not need to install chains at this point, but must still carry a set inside their vehicle in case conditions worsen.

Finally, before any mountain pass highway is closed by heavy snow, the final step is chains required on all vehicles, even four-wheel drive, and all-wheel drive. Heavy snow amounts often result in dangerous avalanche conditions and road crews will close the highway to conduct avalanche control which usually takes a few hours to complete.

Tire dealers now offer another winter tire option – stud-free winter traction tires that are legal for year-round use and do not create the same roadway damage as studded tires. These stud-free tires have a more aggressive tire tread and are different from ‘all-season’ tires.

For more information about WSDOT’s proper winter driving tires and chains, visit their tire and chains website.

The winter storm season is here for the Cascade highways. Before driving into the Cascades, always check the latest Cascade mountain forecasts and avalanche conditions from the Northwest Avalanche Center at nwac.us.

And effective Nov. 1, pass conditions from the WSDOT can be found online, including current weather, temperatures, road conditions, and any traction advisories. If heavy snow is expected or occurring, consider delaying your trip across the Cascades until the storm has passed and highway crews have had a chance to clear the highway of snow.

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Winter weather increases need for traction tires in WA