This article was updated at 11:40 a.m. Thursday to reflect changing road conditions.
The Idaho Transportation Department’s road report map has been so speckled with closures and warnings in recent days that one Boisean compared it to a Jackson Pollock painting. By noon on Thursday, there were nine road closures east of Twin Falls, but some Treasure Valley-area roads were in better shape, according to the agency’s 511 road report.
“In my three years at ITD, this is pretty close to the worst I’ve ever seen things across the state,” said Jake Melder, a spokesman for the agency.
U.S. 95 was reopened Thursday after a closure the day before between Council and New Meadows. Idaho 55, the alternate route east of U.S. 95, which takes motorists through Cascade and Donnelly, remained partially highlighted purple on Thursday to signify “difficult” driving conditions — drifting snow, reduced visibility, rockfall danger, and slushy or icy conditions. By Donnelly and McCall, road conditions improved to “fair.”
The Payette Avalanche Center issued an advisory, warning the avalanche hazard in the area was “high” Thursday.
Idaho 21 remained closed in two separate places Thursday. The first, from Mores Creek Summit to Lowman (milepost 48 to 72), was due to drifting snow, Melder said. The second, from Grandjean to Banner Creek Summit (milepost 94 to 105), is what’s known as “Avalanche Alley.”
“That’s a very avalanche-prone area,” Melder said. “The risk of seeing an avalanche at this point in time is super-high even if the road is clear.”
The Sawtooth Avalanche Center said conditions in the area are very dangerous.
Highways across the state, including Idaho 21, Idaho 75, U.S. 20, were in bad shape Thursday. Melder said snow drifting across roadways was a principle issue — and one that’s difficult to address.
ITD has sent resources from the Treasure Valley, where it’s nearly 40 degrees and raining, to the mountains to prepare for additional inclement weather.
“We’ve gained some ground ... but the weather is very unpredictable,” Melder said. “There’s no guarantee we’ll be able to keep things open or open up roads that are closed right now.”
In Southeast Idaho, closures are widespread near the Wyoming and Montana borders, with routes blocked on Idaho 33, Idaho 32, Idaho 47, Idaho 87 and U.S. 20.
Transportation officials are urging people in snow-covered locales to stay home.
“Really the best thing for people in the middle of this is to avoid traveling if you can,” Melder said.
If you absolutely must drive, ITD encourages you to pack an emergency bag, tell others where you’re going and when to expect you, and give yourself ample time to travel. Additionally, Melder said, it’s important to respect road closure barriers, even if the path ahead appears clear.