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March Madness Means Road Closures and Flood Warnings in Wood River Valley
Saturday, March 11, 2023


Avalanches and flooding plagued the Wood River Valley Friday as a mid-March snowstorm dumped between 12 and 15 inches of snow, bringing a touch of March madness to the Sun Valley area.

Avalanches slammed into two homes on War Eagle Drive in Hailey. And Susan McKee showed pictures Friday night of a carport roof that collapsed under the weight of the snow near St. Luke's hospital.

An avalanche blocked both lanes of Highway 75 between Lake Creek Road and Hulen Meadows just before noon on Friday. It was eventually reopened. Others blocked Warm Springs Road near Sandy Lane, War Eagle Road in Hailey near Red Elephant Drive in the Della View subdivision and Broadford Road near Marina Drive. Warm Springs Road remained closed Friday night.

Still another avalanche blocked multiple roads in the northern part of Hailey Friday morning as snow fell at a rate of two inches an hour. The avalanche blocked the Big Wood River near River Trail Lane and Empty Saddle Road, creating an ice dam that was estimated to be between 10 and 15 feet.

Crews responded quickly to the ice dam above the Bullion Street Bridge, trying to figure out how to clear the roads without causing additional flooding. A flood warning was issued until 10 a.m. today—Saturday, March 11.

The snow and ice jam was expected to erode later Friday and early Saturday, releasing the backed-up water and leading to rapidly rising water downstream. People are being asked to stay away from the area.

Other avalanches were reported in Indian Creek near Sioux Drive and other roads. And dozens of people reported getting stuck trying to get out of their driveways or on and off side streets along Highway 75.

Hailey Fire closed Heagle Park and trails near Heagle Park and the Draper Preserve as it monitored multiple small avalanches in the Della Mountain and Carbonate areas. For safety’s sake, the department also closed the Toe of the Hill Trail, which starts behind Wood River High School and runs south along the foothills.

Mayor Martha Burke said fire, police and public works crews planned to work all weekend to keep public infrastructure safe and assist citizens. The City of Sun Valley closed its offices on Friday because of the weather but police, fire and road crews worked through the storm.

Numerous businesses and events were closed and cancelled Friday, including the Senior Connection. Blaine County schools were already closed due to a Teacher Work Day.

The snow didn’t stop thousands of skiers from flocking to Sun Valley Resort, which has surpassed 100 days on the season with about 40 more days remaining until the end of the season. The resort had a half-hour delayed opening as ski patrol lobbed dynamite at possible avalanche areas and lift operators dug out snow from under the chairs.

The first skiers up the mountain found 12 inches of powder amidst gusty winds at the top of Bald Mountain. Snow continued to fall, topping out at 15 inches as the sun came out about 12:30 p.m. The  ski patrol continued to lob dynamite as the day progressed, and avalanche mitigation may continue this morning.

Bald Mountain has gotten 35 inches of snow, or three feet, in the past 72 hours. Meanwhile, Boise set a record of 12 days with consecutive snowfall.

Galena Lodge reportedly got about 14 inches. Backcountry avalanche danger is extreme, according to the Sawtooth Avalanche Center.

Those who ventured out to Friday's Gallery Walk or The Liberty Theatre Company's "Red" in Ketchum felt like they were riding bucking broncos as they drove over frozen waves of snow on Ketchum's streets. Pedestrians had trouble keeping their footing at glassy intersections, and those who were able to find parking spots in niches of snow piles had to walk through several feet of deep snow to get to sidewalks which, thankfully, were mostly shoveled.

Highway 20 between Interstate 84 and Fairfield was closed by drifting snow on Friday and remained closed Friday night. Highway 26/93 from Carey to Arco was closed in both directions about 9 a.m. due to whiteout conditions. It had reopened by evening but with poor visibility and conditions. And Highway 75 was closed over Galena Summit due to avalanche danger and remains closed. Highway 21 closed between Idaho City and Lowman due to heavy snow, high winds and avalanche danger. Interstate 84 in eastern Oregon was closed Thursday night between La Grande and Baker City, leaving trucks stranded. It reopened on Friday.

The sun is supposed to shine on Sun Valley today and Sunday—imagine that! But snow showers could return Sunday night and Monday, although less than an inch of new snow predicted. Unsettled weather follows.

The current snow load in Hailey as of 11 a.m. March 3 was 74.88 pounds per square foot. Those with houses or outbuildings built prior to 1980 should pay attention to the snow load, city staff said.

The City of Sun Valley closed its offices on Friday because of the weather but police, fire and road crews worked through the storm.

Sun Valley’s building supervisor Brendan Campbell said that roofs in Sun Valley were potentially holding up to 58 pounds per square foot based on information from the Chocolate Gulch Snowtel site. That site showeds a total snow accumulation of 54 inches on Thursday with a snow water equivalent of 69 pounds per square foot. Snow water equivalent measured in inches is multiplied by 5.2 to convert to pounds per square foot.

Residences built in the mid-1980s or later in Sun Valley should be able to accommodate roof snow loads up to 100 pounds per square foot, Campbell said. Residents in structures built prior to the mid-1980s should monitor and shovel roofs as necessary, he added.

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