Tag Archives: NWAC

Weekly High-Five Report: NWAC

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Sunrise Weather Station, Mt. Rainier National Park

The Northwest Avalanche Center puts out a weather and avalanche forecast every day of the winter, and for mountain people, these guys are invaluable. Thanks to NWAC meteorologists Garth Ferber, Kenny Kramer and Mark Moore, snowsports enthusiasts and backcountry skiers know a whole lot more about the conditions. Not only do these three maintain various telemetry stations throughout the state which allow the casual browser to view snowfall totals, water amounts and wind directions, among other data across the Olympics and Cascades, these guys also put out daily forecasts.

Every morning Garth, Kenny or Mark release a detailed Avalanche Forecast for the region, complete with a Danger Rose, Snowpack Analysis and Avalanche Forecast. Before venturing into the backcountry, just check the NWAC website to find great information about the snowpack and which aspects and elevations to avoid.

In addition to the avalanche forecast, the center also offers a detailed weather forecast as well. If you’re lucky, you might even get that forecast in the form of a poem.

Mark Moore is known for his wild weather forecasts, and he’s also called a “weather poet”. Not only does he study the forecast models, translating the colorful images into water totals and wind estimates, he also might put the outlook into rhymed verse. Here’s an example:

Settlement is coming but not fast enough-
And it’s hard to focus with all of that fluff.
So whatever your sport, whatever your skill,
Be avalanche aware or else you it will kill.

Needless to say, the Avalanche Meteorologists at NWAC are a great resource for anyone venturing into the mountains. Whether a backcountry skier looking for an avalanche forecast or a resort rider wanting to know just how light that 3″ that fell at his favorite ski area really was, look no further than your local avalanche center.

These guys deserve a high-five. Bravo Mark, Kenny and Garth. Now carry on!

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Avalanche Hazard Going to Extreme

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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.

Recent Avalanche Activity

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Two days ago, my husband noticed three skiers leaving the base area at Crystal Mountain headed for the East Peak/Bullion Basin area. While the clouds had parted, revealing pristine peaks ringing our valley, the strong wind blew plumes of snow, adding to the huge cornices hovering over fragile slopes. Naturally, John glanced up at Ted’s Buttress, the large cross-loaded cornice that builds on the north side of East Peak and hangs over the lodges below C Lot.

It looked fat.

So he called Paul, the patrol director, to tell him about the three backcountry skiers he’d seen heading in that direction, skins on their skis, packs on their backs. And he wondered if they knew the avalanche hazard. It was obviously high that day.

By the time he got off the phone and turned back to look at the Buttress (which he can see from his office window) it had slid. Warming temperatures that day, combined with wind transport and recent snow loading created enough stress for the slope to avalanche naturally. From a higher location on Crystal Mountain, I could see the significant debris at the base of the buttress, covering old timber and getting dangerously close to the lodges. The crown, which extended several hundred yards across the slope and down the ridge, looked quite deep–at least six feet deep compared to nearby trees that were dwarfed by the large crown. No one has yet ventured up there as the avalanche hazard is still too high and the hang fire is still too dangerous. But I can tell you, it’s a significant event.

Last weekend, when we opened Southback at 3 p.m., evidence of recent avalanche activity extended from Joe’s Badass Shoulder all the way to Dog Leg. A jagged crown followed the contours of the ridge and dipped down into a face just below Chicken Head, which looked to be another large crown of approximately 6-8 feet.

A BIG slide near Mt. Baker Ski Area broke out on Shuksan arm two days ago, with early reports coming in that it was bigger than the slide in 1999. I was there for that one, searching for bodies with my avalanche rescue dog. Our probe poles, at ten feet, were simply not long enough to probe the thirty feet of debris that rested on the bodies, which wouldn’t be found until all the snow melted. Fortunately, no one was caught this time, even though the slide covered over hundreds of recent ski tracks. It was a very close call.

Today for the south-central backcountry areas near Crystal Mountain, the NWAC is forecasting Considerable Hazard above 5000 feet and Moderate below. The avalanche rose, shown here, depicts the hazard for specific elevations and aspects. Notice how between north and northeast aspects, the increased hazard extends lower–this is due to the south, southwest winds that have loaded these aspects.

Needless to say, be careful out there. Today the weather forecasters are calling for a brief break in the clouds this afternoon. Don’t let the sunny weather lull you into a false sense of security. Warming temperatures will increase the hazard today. So stay safe.

Danger Scale Legend

5 = Extreme avalanche danger
4 = High avalanche danger
3 = Considerable avalanche danger
2 = Moderate avalanche danger
1 = Low avalanche danger