Avalanche Hazard Going to Extreme


The Northwest Avalanche Center is calling for extreme avalanche hazard today above 4,000 feet. You don’t see that very often, but here it is. Crystal Mountain hasn’t seen rain in almost a month, and we have picked up several feet of snow in that time. Our telemetry currently still reads 150cm in Green Valley. With today’s rain (almost an inch of water and counting) we may have reached this season’s snowpack apex.

It’s all downhill from here. Or is it?

Today’s rain might actually be helpful in the long run. It will soak the pack, perhaps even percolate down to those pesky crust layers wreaking havoc all around us (think Clark Canyon at Mt. Hood , think 30 feet of debris in Rumble Gully near Mt. Baker, think too many close calls to count), causing them to fail today (while, hopefully, no one is out there) or stabilize. It will also jump start the annual shift to spring–initiating the melt-freeze cycle necessary for corn production. So that if we ever get any sunny weather, the snowpack prime will already be pumped.

More importantly, if the rain reduces the snowpack, we can restart our search for our missing friend, Paul Melby. By my estimation, over five feet has fallen since Paul went missing. Perhaps, once the snowpack melts, we can return Paul to his family.

So here’s to the rain! Viva la wet stuff! Hooray for gray-misty-damp days! Now let’s just get it over with.

Below is from NWAC’s avalanche forecast, for those masochistic enough to consider venturing out:

A westerly jet over the south Gulf of Alaska began to direct a west to east oriented warm front to the Northwest on Tuesday night. Satellite images Wednesday morning show moisture extending well to the south and west to the tropics. This should be a heavy snow, rain and warming event for the Olympics and especially the north to central Cascades. The heaviest precipitation intensities so far Wednesday have been at Snoqualmie with .3-.4 inches per hour common. Snow levels have not risen to expected levels so far Wednesday possibly due to precipitation intensities and melting snow lowering the snow level. Precipitation intensities have been less at Mt Baker so far today possibly due to blocking by Vancouver Island.

Reports the past few days have generally indicated lingering powder at higher elevations. But increasing triggered damp or wet loose snow avalanche conditions have been reported at lower elevations. An avalanche fatality occurred near Stevens on Sunday and a close call was reported via TAY at Snoqualmie on Sunday due to these conditions. So some recent snow will available for entrainment by avalanches the next couple days. Total snow depths are at what is likely to be winter maximum for this season at some NWAC sites such as Paradise and White Pass. Reports have also indicated that deeper weak layers near crusts from mid winter should still be possible in some areas. Very large cornices have also been reported. The major heavy rain and warming event Wednesday is likely to trigger avalanches to these layers and to trigger cornice failures.

2 responses »

  1. Every cloud does have a silver lining. I was touring in the Olympics last Saturday morning and turned back long before we got to a place we could really ski. Really unstable. Hopefully this storm will have the desired stabilizing effect on the snowpack and help kick off a (safe) Spring backcountry season.

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