Snow removal, and the attendant avalanche risk for road crews, is a major issue on mountain highways worldwide. The Going-to-the-Sun Road is the only road that crosses Glacier National Park, Montana. This 80-km highway ascends over 1200m along the wall of a glaciated basin and crosses the continental divide. The annual opening of the road is critical to the regional economy and there is public pressure to open the road as early as possible. Despite the 67-year history of snow removal activities, few stat on snow conditions at upper elevations were available to guide annual planning for the raod opening. We examined statistical relationships between the opening date and nearby SNOTEL data on snow water equivalence (WE) for 30 years. Early spring SWE (first Monday in April) accounted for only 33% of the variance in road opening dates. Because avalanche spotters, used to warn heavy equipment operators of danger, are ineffective during spring storms or low-visibility conditions, we incorporated the percentage of days with precipitation during plowing as a proxy for visibility. This improved the model's predictive power to 69%/ A mountain snow simulator (MTSNOW) was used to calculate the depth and density of snow at various points along the road and field data were collected for comparison. MTSNOW underestimated the observed snow conditions, in part because it does not yet account for wind redistribution of snow. The severe topography of the upper reaches of the road are subjected to extensive wind redistribution of snow as evidence by the formation of "The Big Drift" on the lee side of Logan Pass.
Additional publication details
Application of snow models to snow removal operations on the Going-to-the-Sun Road, Glacier National Park
International Snow Science Workshop
Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center
Larger Work Title:
Proceedings of the 2000 International Snow Science Workshop