Officials: Stay Home

By on January 9, 2017

A vehicle travel advisory is still in effect while Teton Pass remains closed.

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An image from an avalanche Sunday in the ABC chutes, located outside the boundary of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Granite Canyon. (Photo: Bridger Teton Avalanche Center)

UPDATE, 9 a.m. Tuesday, January 10, From Teton County Emergency Management:

  • N. Highway 89 from Moose to Moran is closed due to limited visibility.
  • Highway 22 Teton Pass, S Highway 89 Snake River Canyon, and S. Highway 191 Hoback Canyon are all open.
  • Town of Jackson has lifted the “No Unnecessary Travel” advisory for town roads.  Winter driving conditions exist, so please use caution.
  • Teton County will keep a “No Unnecessary Travel” advisory in place for county roads due to increasing winds and lowered visibility.
  •  All START Bus routes including Teton Valley commuter lines, are running.
  • All Teton County School District schools are in session.

JACKSON HOLE, WY — A winter storm that managed to close Teton County schools today for the first time in years due to treacherous driving conditions is still cause for concern, local officials say. An advisory issued by Teton County Sheriff’s Office to avoid unnecessary vehicle travel is still in effect while Teton Pass has remained closed since 1:30 Monday morning, preventing hundreds of people from commuting to work in Jackson, including myriad law enforcement officials. The pass will remain closed for the evening and is estimated to reopen sometime after 6 a.m. Tuesday.

The advisory is coupled with a severe avalanche warning from the Bridger Teton Avalanche Center. Travel in the backcountry is not advised today. “Natural avalanches are likely and could be large and destructive,” the warning reads. “Wet slides are likely at the lower elevations. This avalanche activity is likely to impact roadways.”

Two avalanches today, one that dumped more than 15 feet of debris onto Highway 22, are listed on BT Avalanche Center’s website. On Sunday eight avalanches—mostly in-bounds at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort—were reported.

When it comes to motorists, WYDOT officials say public safety is guiding decisions about road closures. “Mother Nature is hitting us pretty hard today and yesterday,” said Stephanie Harsha, public relations specialist for WYDOT District 3. Harsha pointed to an increasingly unstable snowpack as reason for the dangerous avalanche conditions that have caused slides which crews have been working night and day to clear both on Teton Pass and Hoback and Snake River Canyons.

In light of the December 15 skier triggered avalanche on Teton Pass that swept a motorist in its path, Harsha said WYDOT will not take any chances opening the pass prematurely. “Our biggest concern is drifting snow this evening making for dangerous conditions,” she said.

Although Hoback and Snake River Canyons are open, Harsha says that does not mean motorists should necessarily consider those roads a safe alternative to pass travel. She warned that driving conditions there remain dangerous and people are encouraged to stay home. Anyone who must drive the route should remain hyper vigilant of black ice.

The weather hazards have also been compounded by the lack of law enforcement able to make it into work, as most Jackson/Teton County law enforcement officials commute from Victor and Driggs, Idaho, or Star Valley. “None of the detectives were able to make it up [Teton Pass] or around [the canyon]. One detective who lives on this side was placed in uniform in the field today,” said Lieutenant Tom Combs of the Teton County Sheriff’s Office. The lack of law enforcement means a slower response time for accidents, another reason to stay off the roads, he said. However, Combs emphasized the advisory issued today was due solely to hazardous driving conditions and not because of a staff shortage.

To mitigate icy thoroughfares, Combs said roads are being graveled but it’s simply sinking into standing water and freezing, making for dangerous, slick conditions. “Someone said the canyon conditions were like if a Zamboni machine had been run over it,” he said.

So far today, there haven’t been many serious accidents from what Combs can tell from the field. There was word of a secondary vehicle collision involving a K-9 unit responding to an accident in the Snake River Canyon. The officer and K-9 were unharmed, Combs said.

“People must be taking care to drive safely,” he warned, as plenty of motorists have managed to skid off area roads today.

START Bus service has been slow and unpredictable. Town shuttles are operating but behind schedule. Transit service to Idaho has been suspended until further notice due to the closure of Teton Pass. The three buses that made it to Jackson from Star Valley this morning are expected to return on schedule. START transit director Darren Brugman said buses are running to Teton Village but service is “at the mercy of road conditions and incidents.”

Meanwhile (delighted) school-age children and teenagers are bearing witness to history. “We recognize it is an historic event as far as the [school] district closing today,” said Charlotte Reynolds, Teton County School District information coordinator. The unofficial story, Reynolds says, is that schools haven’t closed due to weather since 1979 when temperatures hit a record 60 below zero.

Teton County School District officials will revaluate road condition reports tomorrow before deciding if schools will reopen.

According to the National Weather Service, mostly light snow is expected in the valley tonight. However, another round of heavy snow is possible Tuesday morning with a much more significant period of heavy snow late Tuesday afternoon through Wednesday evening.

Powder clause, anyone?

— Jessica Sell Chambers and Robyn Vincent

 

 

 

 

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