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US 12 closures reflect regional weather activity

Recent closures of a section of U.S. Highway 12 are part of a larger regional pattern that has seen an increase in the risk of avalanches, according to the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD).

A week ago Wednesday, March 5, U.S. 12 closed between Lowell to Powell (mileposts 100-161) for more than two and a half days, reopening last Saturday, March 8.

“Avalanche danger throughout the American West has been unusually high for the last month, and avalanche terrain affecting U.S. 12 along the Lochsa is no different,” said Bill Nicholson, ITD avalanche forecaster.

Nicholson said existing snowpack on the ground has created an unstable foundation, which can be undermined by significant amounts of rain and unusually high temperatures that are forecasted.

Since Feb. 12 of this year, U.S. 12 between milepost 100 and milepost 161 has closed five times because of avalanche danger. When a closure occurs, gates across the highway prevent access as a safety measure.

Before Feb. 12, U.S. 12 closed twice since 2008 because of potential avalanches.

There have been no fatalities on Idaho highways caused by avalanches. However, from late December 2013 through March 5 of this year, there have been 20 fatalities in Western states. These were recreationists who were snowmobiling, hiking, skiing and climbing.

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