Cascades - North East Avalanche Forecast
Jan 13th, 2020 10:00AM
Dangerous avalanche conditions remain at upper elevations due to recent wind drifting and storm totals. Steer around freshly formed wind drifts and watch for a poor bond in the recent storm snow on slopes steeper than 35 degrees. The storm will finally taper off on Monday and be replaced with very cold temperatures.
On Monday, an observer near Vasiliki Ridge reported 2 feet of recent storm snow since January 10th and tests showing lingering instability on the Dec 27th surface hoar, buried over 3 feet below the surface. On Saturday, observers reported triggering small avalanches in recent storm snow above 6,000ft on southerly aspects of Delancy Ridge.
After significant storm totals in the past week, deep snow alone can be dangerous. Deep snow around tree-wells and open creeks can pose a hazard for suffocating. Make sure to travel with a partner and to be aware of the danger (www.deepsnowsafety.org). Expect the coldest temperatures of the winter so far.
January 12th update: In the past week, there have been two fatal avalanche accidents to the east of NWAC's forecast area. One occurred near Kellog, ID and another outside of Baker City, OR. Local avalanche centers will perform accident investigations including final reports. You can find preliminary accident information at avalanche.org.
January 9th, 2020 (The regional synopsis is updated every Thursday @ 6 pm)
As we said Happy New Year and rang in 2020, snow was turning to rain at many trailheads and lower elevation Passes, not exactly the fresh start winter recreationalists had in mind. The snowpack was already looking a little thin throughout the region, especially at lower elevations. Low snow in places like Snoqualmie Pass made backcountry travel difficult and hazardous. NWAC’s snow depth climatology report was showing snow depths 25-64% of normal to kick off the start of 2020.
Things can change quickly in the Pacific Northwest and they did as we entered an extended storm cycle between January 2nd to January 8th. Strong winds, fluctuating temperatures, and heavy precipitation offered few breaks in the weather over this period limiting observations and hampering travel. Despite periods of rain at lower elevations, most areas saw several feet of new snow with big jumps in total snow depths as a westerly storm track strongly favored the West Slopes of the Cascades and the Olympics for the highest precipitation totals.
Total Snow Depth (in) 1/2/20
Total Snow Depth (in) 1/8/20
Heather Meadows Mt Baker
Crystal Mt Green Valley
Paradise Mt Rainier
White Pass Upper
Mt Hood Meadows
We may have started with a shallow snowpack, but most locations increased their snowpack by 70% or more over this storm cycle!
During this extended and impressive storm cycle that included backcountry avalanche warnings, natural avalanches were reported in many areas Jan 6th-7th.
The Stevens Pass area was especially active over the period with over 100(!) avalanche observations made on the 6th and 7th. Professionals reported numerous avalanches in places that they hadn't previously observed avalanches and some paths avalanched multiple times in a 24 hour period. Observers reported a few very large (size D2.5-3) avalanches, originating at upper elevations with deeper crowns that likely formed from wind drifting. Topping off an active couple of days, warming temperatures lead to a widespread loose wet avalanche cycle.
The southern Washington Cascades, the Wentachee Mountains and Mt. Hood either saw less precipitation, warmer temperatures leading to more rain than snow, or some combination of the two and ended up with relatively less active avalanche conditions than areas further north.
A large natural avalanche on Rock Mountain near Berne along Hwy 2 east of Stevens Pass that released Jan 6th or 7th. Photo: Josh Hirshberg 1/7/20
Many small storm slabs released in the Crystal backcountry 1/6-1/7. Pinwheels in the photo suggest loose wet avalanche activity occurred when temperatures rose above freezing and snow turned to rain.
Another active and colder weather pattern is on it’s way. Enjoy yourself out there and be sure to check the forecast before heading out. Remember, NWAC is a community-supported avalanche center and when you submit an observation you make the forecast better!
It’s getting deeper! Photo: Jeremy Allyn
It will be easiest to trigger avalanches at upper elevations. Recent storm snow is still bonding and gaining strength. Avalanches could break within storm layers or possibly beneath the storm snow. Step, or ride off into untracked snow once in a while, and look for shooting cracks as you travel. At upper elevations, the wind may have stiffened the recent snow into stiffer slabs. In these areas, steer around recent drifts and wind-loaded slopes. Since January 10th, about 2 feet of snow has accumulated in the mountains around the Methow Valley and Washington Pass. Look for possible layers of weak snow underlying the storm snow. You may be able to trigger small loose dry avalanches in steep terrain at low elevations.
Release of a soft cohesive layer (a slab) of new snow that breaks within the storm snow or on the old snow surface. Storm-slab problems typically last between a few hours and few days. Storm-slabs that form over a persistent weak layer (surface hoar, depth hoar, or near-surface facets) may be termed Persistent Slabs or may develop into Persistent Slabs.
You can reduce your risk from Storm Slabs by waiting a day or two after a storm before venturing into steep terrain. Storm slabs are most dangerous on slopes with terrain traps, such as timber, gullies, over cliffs, or terrain features that make it difficult for a rider to escape off the side.
Storm slabs usually stabilize within a few days, and release at or below the trigger point. They exist throughout the terrain, and can be avoided by waiting for the storm snow to stabilize.
Deep Persistent Slabs
Information from upper elevations is limited, increasing our uncertainty regarding a deeply buried persistent weak layer near and above treeline. What we do know is that at least two large, remotely triggered slabs occurred due to a layer of buried surface hoar, and/or weak snow near a crust. This layer can be found about 5ft below the surface at 6,000ft near Washington pass, but is likely quite a bit deeper at higher elevations and in wind deposited areas. It is becoming deep enough that you probably won't observe feedback such as whumphing or shooting cracks as you travel. New snow and wind drifting may increase the load on these layers.
A healthy amount of respect for steep slopes at upper elevations is still warranted. Give yourself plenty of distance from avalanche terrain above 6,000ft. It may be possible to trigger a deep slab from far away or on connected slopes from below. A small slab or cornice failure on the surface may step down to this deeper layer, creating a much more destructive avalanche.
Release of a thick cohesive layer of hard snow (a slab), when the bond breaks between the slab and an underlying persistent weak layer, deep in the snowpack or near the ground. The most common persistent weak layers involved in deep, persistent slabs are depth hoar or facets surrounding a deeply buried crust. Deep Persistent Slabs are typically hard to trigger, are very destructive and dangerous due to the large mass of snow involved, and can persist for months once developed. They are often triggered from areas where the snow is shallow and weak, and are particularly difficult to forecast for and manage. They commonly develop when Persistent Slabs become more deeply buried over time.
Deep Persistent Slabs avalanches can be destructive and deadly events that can take months to stabilize. You can trigger them from well down in the avalanche path, and after dozens of tracks have crossed the slope.
A snowboarder triggered this Deep Persistent Slab near treeline, well down in the path.
Deep, persistent slabs are destructive and deadly events that can take months to stabilize. You can triggered them from well down in the avalanche path, and after dozens of tracks have crossed the slope. Give yourself a wide safety buffer to handle the uncertainty, potentially for the remainder of the season.
Valid until: Jan 14th, 2020 10:00AM