Cascades - North West Avalanche Forecast
Mar 26th, 2019 11:00AM
The new snow will rapidly lose strength with sun and warming on Wednesday. Expect wet loose avalanches on steep sun-exposed slopes. In upper elevation leeward terrain, fresh wind slabs could be human triggered on slopes 35 degrees and steeper.
The Mt. Baker area received 10in of snow (.85in SWE) above 4000ft since Monday night. The recent snow was accompanied by moderate S/SW winds. Observers reported the new snow to be relatively cohesionless in most areas, but wind drifts were found in exposed upper elevation terrain. With a few sun breaks and warming on Tuesday afternoon, the new snow lost strength, and rollerballs, pinwheels, and wet loose activity occurred on solar aspects. Below 4000ft, rain fell on an already soggy snowpack that is melting out quickly.
The snowpack continues to undergo a spring transition. As a result, you may encounter a wide variety of snow conditions including powder snow, breakable crust, wet sloppy snow, and firm slick conditions. Be on the lookout for opening creeks and glide cracks. Use caution if you travel near these features.
March 22nd, 2019
If you’ve been in the snow recently, the wintery conditions of early March may seem worlds away. You may be in for a surprise if it’s been a while since you were in the mountains. The weather has taken a turn towards spring in the last couple weeks and the Cascade snowpack the has undergone major changes. Unseasonably warm temperatures and strong sun followed a month-and-a-half of cold, winter storms. Mid-elevation weather stations stayed above freezing from March 15th-22nd with high temperatures reaching the upper 50’s to low 60’s. For an in-depth survey of the regional snowpack, we’ll divide the terrain up by aspect and elevation.
A graph showing temperatures between 4,000-5,000ft around the Cascades from the 16th-21st.
Along with the warm temperatures, the spring sun has played a major role in warming snow surfaces. The result is a snowpack that varies by aspect. In most regions, shaded and northerly slopes remain relatively unchanged. Aside from some settlement and firmer or moist surfaces, the snow on north aspects is almost entirely dry. Even some low elevation north slopes are still holding snow.
The snowpack on east through south through west aspects is a different story. The strong March sun melted snow surfaces and drove melt-water into the snowpack. This is most dramatic on steep (over 35 degrees) southeast through southwest slopes below 5,000ft. In some areas, you can find meltwater up to 3 feet below the snow surface with drainage channels well established. Between this warm period and rain events in the first half of the winter, the entire snowpack has transformed to melt forms. An important point to note is that as of the 22nd, these solar aspects remain unfrozen and weak. Cooler weather ahead may help strengthen moist to wet layers.
A glide avalanche (D2) released from a rock slab late on the 20th. Lichtenberg Mtn, 5,100ft, SE aspect. Other glide avalanches occurred on the 20th at Snoqualmie Pass and in Tumwater Canyon. Photo: Josh Hirshberg
As you travel from low valleys to higher peaks, you’ll notice a major difference in the snowpack based on elevation. With all the low-elevation snow this winter, there are still some cold, shaded slopes holding pockets of snow down to 1,000ft, especially east of the Cascade Crest. However, most slopes below 3,000ft have lost much of their snow cover. Many low elevation, sun-exposed slopes are bare, especially in areas that previously held less than 3 feet of snow. The low elevation snowpack is no longer substantial enough to allow for easy travel over snow or widespread avalanches.
Loose wet avalanches on the south side of Table Mtn, near Mt Baker. 3/17. Photo: Pete Durr
At mid-elevations, around 3,000-5,000ft, the snowpack is still deep and layered. Many slopes at this elevation band near and west of the Cascade Crest are holding 6-10 feet of snow. This is also where you’ll find the most dramatic variation in the snowpack based on aspect.
Above 5,000ft you’ll encounter a snowpack similar to what you may have found around the 1st of March. Upper elevations have stayed mostly dry. The most sun-exposed slopes have surface crusts but have not seen much water or change to melt forms below the surface.
The recent storm snow will continue to lose strength with sunshine and warming on Wednesday. Expect small natural wet loose avalanches within new snow on sun-exposed slopes. Loose wet activity will begin on east facing slopes and wrap to south and west aspects throughout the day. With warming temperatures, snow surfaces may even become wet and weak on north facing aspects. Be especially heads up around sunlit rocky areas steeper than 40 degrees that will easily shed the new snow. Use caution below treeline in consequential terrain where you find wet unconsolidated snow.
Release of wet unconsolidated snow or slush. These avalanches typically occur within layers of wet snow near the surface of the snowpack, but they may quickly gouge into lower snowpack layers. Like Loose Dry avalanches, they start at a point and entrain snow as they move downhill, forming a fan-shaped avalanche. They generally move slowly, but can contain enough mass to cause significant damage to trees, cars or buildings. Other names for loose-wet avalanches include point-release avalanches or sluffs. Loose Wet avalanches can trigger slab avalanches that break into deeper snow layers.
Travel when the snow surface is colder and stronger. Plan your trips to avoid crossing on or under very steep slopes in the afternoon. Move to colder, shadier slopes once the snow surface turns slushly. Avoid steep, sunlit slopes above terrain traps, cliffs areas and long sustained steep pitches.
Several loose wet avalanches, and lots of pinwheels and roller balls.
Loose wet avalanches occur where water is running through the snowpack, and release at or below the trigger point. Avoid terrain traps such as cliffs, gullies, or tree wells. Exit avalanche terrain when you see pinwheels, roller balls, a slushy surface, or during rain-on-snow events.
Expect to find fresh wind drifts in leeward upper elevation terrain. Southwesterly winds blew steadily during the storm and redistributed the 10in of recent snow into thicker slabs. You are most likely to encounter the wind slab problem just below ridgelines, in gully features, and on exposed convex rollovers. If you see textured snow surfaces, small cornices, or locally deeper snow accumulations be leery of nearby slopes greater than 35 degrees where you could trigger a wind slab.
Release of a cohesive layer of snow (a slab) formed by the wind. Wind typically transports snow from the upwind sides of terrain features and deposits snow on the downwind side. Wind slabs are often smooth and rounded and sometimes sound hollow, and can range from soft to hard. Wind 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.
Wind Slabs form in specific areas, and are confined to lee and cross-loaded terrain features. They can be avoided by sticking to sheltered or wind-scoured areas..
Wind Slab avalanche. Winds blew from left to right. The area above the ridge has been scoured, and the snow drifted into a wind slab on the slope below.
Wind slabs can take up to a week to stabilize. They are confined to lee and cross-loaded terrain features and can be avoided by sticking to sheltered or wind scoured areas.
Valid until: Mar 27th, 2019 11:00AM