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  1. Default Advice - Chicago to Seattle with dog in Nov, 1-90 or 1-80?

    Hi - I am moving my family to Seattle from Chicago the first week of November. We have an older dog who can't fly so we are doing a road trip to get him to Seattle. Obviously 1-90 is the most direct route but I am terrified of road conditions through WA and ID. I have been investigating alternate routes and it looks like 1-80 may take us through a flatter route (which I would hope means less snow and bad road conditions). It's about 250 miles addition but we are willing to go a little longer if it means a safer ride.

    Montana and Idaho already got a winter storm in October so I am really paranoid about the 1-90 drive. Does anyone have any thoughts or advice on doing the 1-80 route instead? We will not be doing any side trips, we are looking to just drive and get to Seattle as soon as we can - we are expecting a 3-4 day trip.

    Thanks for any advice or opinions!

    - Dina

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin

    Default storms happen

    Welcome to the RTA Forum!

    There is never a one-size fits all, guarenteed to be weather free, "safer" route when it comes to cross country interstate travel. Just because one route is farther north than another doesn't mean that its more likely to see winter weather and quite frankly, even if a route has more mountains, it doesn't mean that it would be less safe.

    What matters is what the weather will be when you plan to travel. It is possible that you could see snow along some sections of I-90 in early November. It is also possible that you could see snow along I-80. Adding 250 miles to your trip will mean you are on the road for more time, which in and of itself can add to the chance of seeing less than ideal conditions.

    Check the forecast in the days before you go. If it looks like I-90 is going to be hammered with a storm when you are traveling, then by all means, look at taking I-80, but I wouldn't make that assumption until you've seen a short term forecast.

  3. #3

    Default Distance = Risk

    I wholeheartedly agree with the opinion that adding distance to avoid weather is no guarantee of adding a measure of safety to your trip. In fact, I hold the opinion the reverse is true.

    "Paranoid" is a powerful term, but applying it to traversing MT on I-90 seems extreme. The eastern half of MT is high plains. There are passes at Bozeman (Bozeman Pass), Butte (Homestake Pass), and the ID border (Lookout Pass). You are correct that there has been a traffic-stopping snowstorm out in MT already, but the fuller reality is that's an unusual event. To the best of my knowledge, the event a week and a half ago stopped traffic along I-15 on each side of Monida Pass (the MT-ID border between Butte and the Idaho plains) for around 24 hours, and that was after 3 days of unseasonably heavy and persistant snowfall.

    My point is it's unlikely to experience great difficulty traversing MT at most any time of winter, and particularly unlikely in the late Fall. Worst case scenario is you'd have to wait out a few hours of bad weather in one of the passes, and you can do so from the relative comfort of a truck stop or motel.

    For real-time views of the road conditions in the Montana passes, check out the "RWIS" webcams at the Montana DOT website. You'll find links there to ID's I-90 webcams, too. A daily glance at those cams and a location-specific forecast should provide all the confidence needed to proceed or hold back for a bit. MT also participates in the 511 road condition program, so that's a way to keep up with developments absent a computer connection.

    Chill out, and have a safe trip.


  4. Default thanks... how about the WA mountains?

    Thanks for the advice. I totally understand that any extra road time means more risk. I guess I am worried about two things 1)snow (which you pointed out can happen on I-80, but with the recent snowstorm I am more nervous) and 2) mountain driving in WA and ID.

    I have lived in Chicago all my life, taken road trips out west but am pretty new to mountain driving. The range on I-90 from MT to WA looks kind of brutal. I always assumed that mountain driving takes longer because of the climbs and is in general more risky than non-mountain driving (better cell reception, more roadside stop options). Is the mountain driving in this area anything like driving I-70 in CO? I would like to avoid needing chains through passes and that's why I was considering I-80 (still have the final range in WA to get to Seattle).

    Thanks again for your help. I have been lurking on this forum for a while checking out the west trips to get ideas, this site is great and there's so many people with good advice. Thanks.

  5. #5

    Default Glad to be of help

    I would suggest I-90 between about Big Timber/Livingston, MT and Lookout Pass, MT/ID is similar to I-70 between Denver and Glenwood Springs, CO: long stretches of lower elevation (and relatively flat--along rivers) highway with mountains on one side or another, or both, with a small handful of higher passes. In the case of I-70, the passes are much higher--2 of the 3 major passes in CO are +10,000'. I think Bozeman Pass is around 5,300', Homestake around 6,400', and Lookout around 4,500'. The general elevation outside of the passes in MT is modest, so the mountain grades probably don't pick up more than, say, 2,500-3,000', different than the 3,500 to 5,000' gained from Denver to the Eisenhower Tunnel and from Dillon to Vail Pass in CO. That's relevant because the weather changes aren't too dramatic where the passes aren't so much higher than the highway corridor on either side: the uphill and downhill grades are not too long, and the overall distance needing to be maintained by the plows is less. That said, while they're lower, they are about 500 miles farther north than the CO passes.

    It was expertly pointed out here last week the I-80 segment across WY is fairly high elevation (long stretches over 6,000') and, while relatively free from high passes and long grades, is prone to wind-driven snow problems. I-90 remains fairly low, being close to the Missouri River in SD, thence along the Yellowstone River in eastern MT, so only gets a dose of elevation much farther west than you'd get in WY on I-80.

    My overall take on the matter is that it's elevation which creates weather, not latitude, at least as to the differences in latitude from, say, I-70 to I-90.

    I have never traveled west of Lookout Pass along I-90 in ID or WA. Perhaps a review of the ID and WA DOT webcams can give you a good current picture of conditions out there and a notion of what to expect.

    Last edited by Foy; 10-20-2008 at 10:42 AM. Reason: corrected elevations for MT passes, from MT-DOT webcams

  6. Default good info, thanks

    that's great info to have. I hadn't though about the different elevations much, just looking at it as driving through mountains. I think I-90 sounds like the best way to go, good weather or bad. I'll just be sure to pack lots of extra stuff for us and the dog in case we run into bad weather and have to wait for it to pass before getting back on the road. Thanks for the info, this forum is great!

  7. #7

    Default Watching it unfold before your eyes.........

    I'm a bit reluctant to suggest it, but here goes anyway.

    The national forecast map for today shows a low pressure system along a cold front which appears to be tracking directly through south-central MT, with the forecast 2pm EDST position being around Bozeman Pass/Homestake Pass. The forecast could present you with the opportunity to see a fairly heavy short-term snowfall and the simultaneous clearing of same from the passes. My money is on Montana DOT keeping it open and clear throughout the day.

    Go to the Montana DOT website and locate the RWIS webcams and follow the fun. They're 2 hours behind us, on Mountain DST, and this time of year you won't see anything at all until around 9:30 am EDST due to their position of latitude and being on the far western end of the Mountain time zone.



  8. #8
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Washington state coast/Olympic Peninsula

    Default Driving in Washington

    The range on I-90 from MT to WA looks kind of brutal.
    You've already gotten a good wrap-up of Montana. So let me tell you about ID and WA.

    If Montana and Lookout Pass are OK to travel on, Idaho should be fine as well. Your are going through a fairly mountainous stretch of Idaho but the grades are not extreme as this is an interstate built to accomodate truckers at all times of the year. Again, this is weather-dependent based on what is going on at the time you travel, as others have noted. It's not unusual for the PNW, including Idaho, to have a warm October/November and the roads could be completely clear by the time you travel.

    It will be very unlikely for you to have any problems in Washington. The entire eastern half of the state, from Spokane to about the half-way point between Ellensburg and Cle Elum is most flat. Most changes in elevation are gradual and very limited. There are no mountains through here and few large hills. Snow in November is unusual. If it does occur, it's limited and the highways will be clear. Of course, a storm front could change this but it's not normally a problem.

    From Cle Elum to North Bend, WA, you're traveling Snoqualmie Pass. This pass is a very gradual grade climb as compared to most mountain passes. Trucker traffic travels this route by the hundreds, if not thousands, daily, and year-round. In my opinion, when comparing driving this pass to most other passes I've driven, it hardly seems like you're going over a pass. More like climbing a long, gradual hill. Since this is such a major trucking route, it gets immediate attention if there is enough snow to effect traffic. Normally, the road is cleared within a couple of hours. November is VERY early for there to be any problems crossing this pass and it would be unusual to experience more than snow until later in the season.

    It's very unusual for the ski resorts along Snoqualmie Pass to open before Thanksgiving.

    So, like advised already, check the weather reports daily and change your route is weather conditions dictate. But, in essence, if Montana is clear, Idaho should be fine, too. And even if those areas have snow, it doesn't mean you'll have problems in Washington.

  9. Default thanks, good info

    thanks again for all the info. Glad to hear that the pass in WA is fairly managable and a major trucking route. I will keep the MT DOT site bookmarked for our trip. We don't hit the road until November 5, so we're a week away still. Again, great input from everyone, super helpful. I'm glad I checked out this forum.


  10. Default I disagree with all these posters....

    Having grown up in St. Louis and now living in Seattle, my recommendation would be pretty firm to go I-80 instead of I-90, except if you get a three day promise of sunshine the morning you leave.


    Other posters have minimized the effect of Montana and Idaho's mountains, but that is folly. I have driven through Butte, MT on Thanksgiving when 11 fresh inches of snow blanketed the roadway. Adding to the odyssey were the profusion of high mountain passes and the fact that the state barely sands its roads. When it snows on these passes, it's chains or white knuckles. It only takes one storm to ruin a whole day's productivity.

    Let's compare the routes from Seattle eastward. Snoqualmie Pass is very well-managed and shouldn't be avoided except in extreme cases. There are a few rolling mountains between Ellensburg and Yakima on I-82, and on I-90 you have the Columbia River gorge. That's a tie.

    Continuing the southern route, you have the Blue Mountains of Oregon vs. northern Idaho. Both present challenges in heavy weather, so another tie.

    Eastward is where you get the entirety of the difference. From Lookout Pass on the ID/MT border (the westbound section of which is about the scariest interstate pass in the country) to Billings, Montana is full of steep, snowy, badly maintained roadway. From Billings eastward to the Black Hills of SD is the typical up and down rangeland you would see further south.

    In contrast, from the OR/ID border east to Ogden, UT is a piece of cake. This is flat semidesert. East of Ogden to Wyoming are some serpentines through the mountains, but they are of small consequence. Wyoming is essentially flat, though at altitude. The pass between Laramie and Cheyenne is at some 8500 feet, but the grades are gentle. I will agree that wind-driven snow can be a problem in WY, but you can just as easily get that in NE or SD.

    Finally, since you'll be traveling west, I recommend the southern route for this reason: let's say it's such a snowy winter in the Cascades that even Snoqualmie Pass closes down. If you know that in eastern OR, you can avoid the Cascade passes altogether and take the long rainy way through Vancouver, WA. I've never had to do it myself, but I liked knowing that it was a safety valve on my trip.

    Ellensburg isn't a happening town. I'd hate for you to be forced to stay there.

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