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  1. Default road trip from chicago to seattle, Washington first week of January

    My son and I are driving to Seattle from Chicago the first week of January. We have gotten conflicting advise about which route to go. We are most concerned about the mountain area....90 (can be hazardous and need chains to cross Mts) Vs 80 (heard road closure due to wind conditions during storm) Vs going all the way south to 40 (which adds on a good day). We are driving a Tahoe with 4 wheel drive. Would appreciate getting some advise from anyone who's traveled this route before. Want to go the safest way to ease "MOM'S" mind.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Southern California


    Welcome to RTA!

    At this time of year, any of those 3 roads can close in a moment's notice. While I-40 seems more logical because it's further south, it also gets up to 5000-7000 ft elevation between eastern NM and just west of Flagstaff, AZ. That road has already closed for a short period of time because of a blizzard this season.

    I believe I-80 or I-90 have the same issues. Watch your Interstate forecasts (available on and choose the most likely route, just before you leave for your trip. Allow a couple of days extra in case you do have to pull off the road and wait out a storm in a motel someplace. You're better off doing that, btw, than trying to put on chains and plowing through bad weather.


  3. #3

    Default The elevations in question

    Hello D Marion,

    One year ago today I slugged it out crossing Nebraska on I-80, driving into the teeth of a major cold front including 50 mph headwind and crosswinds, blowing snow, and some whiteout conditions. As I reached North Platte, NE, I was actually relieved to learn that I-80 west of Cheyenne was closed and was expected to be closed for 10-12 hours. That caused me to book a room in Cheyenne and get off the road by sundown instead of pushing on to Laramie or Rawlins.

    Donna is right about I-40: Elevations top out OVER 7,000' in NM and AZ and it sees its share of bad weather. All of I-80 in WY is 6,000' or over, topping out at 8,640' west of Cheyenne and holding 7,000-7,500 for most of the way from Laramie to Rawlins. Brutal is the best word I can summon. The day after we had to pull up short in Cheyenne included more subzero cold, high winds, and frequent (but brief) whiteouts. We finally got out of the worst of it around Rock Springs.

    I-90 across Montana, by contrast, is a walk in the park, relatively speaking, and it's due to low elevations. I-90 crosses 4 passes/high points in Montana, at 6,700', 5,400', 5,000', and 4,500' in decreasing order. Most of I-90 runs the valleys of the Yellowstone River, upper Missouri, or Clark Fork rivers and is seldom over 4,000' with many, many miles of 3,000' or lower elevations. You can have a look at both WY and MT passes and lower points by googling their respective DOT webcam sites, where real-time images of conditions are displayed and updated every few minutes around the clock.

    It should be obvious that weather systems can affect I-90 and not I-80, a few hundred miles to the south, so a look ahead at forecasts immediately prior to departure is mandatory. All else being equal, I'd choose I-90 over I-80 in a heartbeat, and I'd dismiss altogether any notion of adding many, many miles to reach I-40.

    Good luck, safe travels, and tell Mom not to worry. Oh, and for good measure, do have adequate cold weather wear readily accessible, keep your fuel level topped off, and carry a fresh gallon of de-icer for your windshield washer reservoir. I've found that the Western US fuel plazas are normally well-stocked with windshield washer squeegees and fluid in buckets by the pumps, so always give your headlights, taillights, and external mirrors a swabbing down as you fuel up.

    Foy, who will be driving I-80 across Wyoming two weeks from tomorrow.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Joplin MO


    I would plan on taking I-90 all the way. If the weather is bad enough where it's not safe to drive a 4wd Tahoe without chains, you should be off the road in a motel and waiting it out anyway.

    Just in case, I would have a set of cable chains for the rear wheels and know how to put them on. If your tires are more than half worn out, it would be wise to get a new set of good all-season tires anyway.

    I drive a 2wd pickup truck and have done quite a bit of winter traveling. I do have a set of cable chains and the only time I've had to use them was to get out of my own driveway and alley last winter after a 19 inch snowstorm!

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Nov 2005
    Ft. Collins, CO.


    I just dashed out to Seattle and back via I-90 (2600 mi round trip). Last year I used I-80.

    I-90 has better road surfaces and a lot less traffic. Smoother road is nice when it's dry and you're running the speed limit. Less traffic is nice all the time because the fewer people on the road, the less the trip is about dealing with other driver's mistakes.

    Only crashes we saw were semis blown over by high gusty winds in Wyoming and a semi who drove into the guard rail while on his cellphone. (Heard that listening to Montana DOT on the scanner.) When that crash was encountered, I was practically alone on the road at 7 PM as I came upon the State Trooper signalling traffic around the trailer which was sticking out into the lane of traffic.

    Foy noted, and I've proven to myself, that it also has a lower average elevation than I-80.

    There are indeed mountain passes but there are snowplows aplenty who know what to watch and what to do.
    Glc is also giving good advice about chains and tire tread depth. I carried chains but didn't need them. Only ran in 4WD for 2 hours at 45 mph on slush.

    I-90 is now my preferred route vs I-80. The I-80 road surface across Wyoming is really beat up.

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