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Old 12-12-2009, 01:40 AM
 
7 posts, read 27,278 times
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Default I90 vs I94 vs I80 cross country drive next week. Help me pick my route!

I'm planning on driving from Yakima, WA to Grand Rapids, MI next week (leaving either Tues 12/15 afternoon or early Weds 12/16 morning) and I'm looking for some advise on what route to take based on the now short-term weather forecast. I've been keeping an eye on the various DOT websites for road conditions, but would appreciate the local knowledge of current conditions and what conditions I'm likely to run into 3 or 4 days from now.

The routes I'm considering are I-90 all the way across, I-90 to I-94, or I-84 to I-80. Which route would you suggest?

I'll be driving a Toyota Corolla with good snow tires and am okay with dealing with winter conditions as they pop up, but would prefer to make the trip as unexciting as possible. I've driven the I-94 route (in great weather) and the I-80 route (in horrific Wyoming blowing snow, black ice weather) before, but never the I-90 route. Wyoming makes me nervous this time of year, but right now seems to have the better forecast. Washington has a snow, freezing rain forecast for mid week, so it may be slow going (or delayed going) out of the gate.

I normally make this drive by myself in two days in good weather, but obviously have dialed back those expectations in anticipation of some slower driving.

Thanks for any help. Any general winter advice or considerations comparing these routes is also appreciated.
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Old 12-12-2009, 06:27 AM
 
Location: Spots Wyoming
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The weather forecast is posted in the thread weather alerts. We have storm warnings for late tonight, Sunday, and Monday but letting up Monday night. The storm will be for Billings East, and down to Sheridan, East. So I-90 should be fairly good come mid week. The one thing that would cause me to be hesitant is the Pass you have to go through in Montana. You should be ok, but you never know. If weather is coming into Washington mid week, it could be trouble.

I-80 only has the one pass (between Cheyenne and Laramie) and is further South then what the storm reports are for.

Personally, I would take I-90 on through. Stay away from I-94 because that storm is going to be traveling East of Billings so you'd be headed right into it.

But, with a small, light weight car, I-80 might be a better choice. With that car, even with the winds that I-80 seems to get, you'd be ok. It's up to you.
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Old 12-12-2009, 11:10 AM
 
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Thanks ElkHunter. Like I mentioned, I've driven through Montana in good weather, but am unfamiliar with what things are like in the winter or how well the roads are maintained. So even if the Montana storm sticks around through Monday night, you're saying the interstates, including passes, could be back to reasonable good shape a day later? How about for driving at night, do the interstates maintain a drivable condition, or does melt-off from the day refreeze and make things unpleasant? I usually like to drive for as long as I'm alert before stopping for the night.

It may be a choice by default if freezing rain, etc near Spokane pushes me south toward Salt Lake City and I-80.
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Old 12-12-2009, 01:56 PM
 
Location: Spots Wyoming
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Quote:
Originally Posted by slipamo View Post
Thanks ElkHunter. Like I mentioned, I've driven through Montana in good weather, but am unfamiliar with what things are like in the winter or how well the roads are maintained. So even if the Montana storm sticks around through Monday night, you're saying the interstates, including passes, could be back to reasonable good shape a day later? How about for driving at night, do the interstates maintain a drivable condition, or does melt-off from the day refreeze and make things unpleasant? I usually like to drive for as long as I'm alert before stopping for the night.

It may be a choice by default if freezing rain, etc near Spokane pushes me south toward Salt Lake City and I-80.
Yes, the shady areas have a very good possibility to refreeze at night.

I just pulled the weather report for that area. Doesn't look good. You can see there's a 60% chance of snow. This is a storm coming in behind the one we're getting tonight and tomorrow. I-80 is looking better.

--------------------------------------------
Tonight: Snow. Low around 18. Light southwest wind. Chance of precipitation is 90%. New snow accumulation of 3 to 5 inches possible.

Sunday: Snow. High near 25. West wind between 5 and 8 mph. Chance of precipitation is 90%. New snow accumulation of 1 to 3 inches possible.

Sunday Night: Snow. Low around 17. West wind between 6 and 9 mph. Chance of precipitation is 90%.

Monday: Snow showers likely. Cloudy, with a high near 25. West wind around 8 mph. Chance of precipitation is 60%.

Monday Night: Snow likely. Cloudy, with a low around 22. Chance of precipitation is 60%.

Tuesday: Snow. High near 30. Chance of precipitation is 80%.

Tuesday Night: Rain and snow. Snow level 2600 feet rising to 3700 feet. Low around 28. Chance of precipitation is 80%.

Wednesday: Rain and snow. Snow level 3700 feet. High near 32. Chance of precipitation is 80%.

Wednesday Night: Rain or freezing rain likely. Snow level 3800 feet rising to 4400 feet. Cloudy, with a low around 31. Chance of precipitation is 60%.

Thursday: Rain likely. Cloudy, with a high near 36. Chance of precipitation is 60%.

Thursday Night: A 50 percent chance of rain. Cloudy, with a low around 33.
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Old 12-13-2009, 07:40 PM
 
Location: SW Montana
352 posts, read 660,325 times
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I'll be behind you driving to the in-laws in Minnesota for a week. Heading across eastern MT and ND on I-94. Plane tickets out of this world, so we're forced to take the scenic route; I'm sorry but the only way to see ND in the winter is from 30,000'.

We've taken this drive several times and have encountered everything from clear sailing to blizzard conditions and sub-zero cold. I could tell you about a stay in Mandan, ND that was fairly interesting - we slept (with dog) in Carhartt coveralls...in the motel room. Our old Subaru was the only thing in the lot that would start the next morning. Drapes moved, shower out of the question. We walked down to a cafe about a quarter mile away. It was deserted and we got way-good grub just for showing up on foot!

Generally, if you can plan the towns on a map it's good...that way if things get dicey you know when to quit. Across ND it can get nasty, so quitting early is not necessarily bad. Drifts can stack up big and visibility can get tough while it's happening. Also, many LEOs will hijack you not knowing you can drive through worse conditions than them - I imagine they have to deal with some real gomers out there, and they don't know you from Adam.

I prefer this route because I'd rather deal with cold than mixed freezing rain/snow conditions which is more common the further south you get. I don't like NE for the abovementioned reason - they shut down for almost nothing sometimes. SD is about the same as ND, I'd opt for the least traveled miles. Neither has so much as a tree to stop the wind and snow, so Ambermatics and a good vehicle are the order of the day. If you are nervous about ice, a set of cable chains is a good thing - the roads can get polished up pretty good. I carry them for the Sub even though it does fine with AWD and traction control.

Have a good trip!
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Old 12-13-2009, 09:47 PM
 
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Thanks for the replies. I'm still kind of playing it by ear at this point, knowing forecasts change by the hour. Mileage difference between the three possible routes is about 50 mi at the most. Looks like a bit of a warmup at least later in the week for the central states, but for me the trick is probably just getting to the central states and away from this west weather front. For now, I-80 is looking slightly better, but I-84 to get there doesn't look great.
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Old 12-13-2009, 10:34 PM
 
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WY is really bad about keeping I-80 in drivable condition throughout winter season, snow fall or not. Also, I-80 truck traffic is much denser than that on I-90. I-90 has a trouble snow point in Idaho, Montana I-90 is OK most of the time, cold though, it could be a biatch to break down (or drive) on I-94 in MT or W. ND when it's really cold or snowing bad, it's so desolate. I-90 in SD is a better bet, it's not that bad most of the winter, sometimes it's almost snow free in February, but when it's snowing, it's snowing. I would take I-90 all way to Chicago, it's only 35 mile more than taking I-94 through ND. Icing of I-90 in SD, probably it happened sometimes, somewhere, but SD is not TX, OK, KS or MO, it's snow state.

Last edited by RememberMee; 12-13-2009 at 10:44 PM..
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Old 12-14-2009, 04:39 PM
 
Location: Spots Wyoming
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Drove part of the way up the Big Horns on I90 today. Buffalo to Sheridan was fairly clear. A little snow on the road but lanes were clear. Sheridan, North. About Tongue River it became snow packed. Can see the pavement but lanes are not well defined. Can still run 65-70 with plenty of traction.

Of course. Having said that. About an hour after I got home, it started snowing again. Hard. Forecast for tonight is 30% chance of snow, accumulations of under an inch.

Here is a link to the Web cams on the highways in South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, and Montana. It's dark now but you can still see some of the intersections as their lit up by street lights. Just scroll down the list til you find what your looking for.
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Old 12-18-2009, 12:03 PM
 
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I ended up leaving Wednesday morning via the I84 to I80 route under a forecast of freezing rain for Washington. And ended up having nearly flawless conditions all the way to Michigan, no precipitation, roads dry or lightly wet, no construction, light traffic. Couldn't have asked for anything better even in the summer. Rolled into Grand Rapids last night 35 hours after I left Yakima.

A few minor spots of compact ice on the passes on I-84 in NE Oregon (you could tell the roads had been horrible the day before, counted three sets of chains broken off in the roadway). I-80 was terrific the whole way. You were right about the truck traffic though, particularly through Wyoming, semis everywhere. Maybe everyone was making a break for it with the nice conditions.

Best of luck to everyone with the holiday travels!
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Old 12-18-2009, 12:39 PM
 
Location: Spots Wyoming
17,168 posts, read 20,721,326 times
Reputation: 10385
I would imagine the snow you found in Oregon on I-84 was Cabbige Patch.

Glad you had a good trip. Yes, the truck traffic can be horrendous on 80. Believe me, they weren't making a break for it, it's always that way.
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