Avalanche Forecast Cascades - North West

Date Issued: Valid Until:

Northwest Avalanche Center NWAC, Northwest Avalanche Center

Avalanche Forecast

Fri Apr. 12th · 11:00AM

Alpine

Danger Ratings Considerable

Treeline

Danger Ratings Moderate

Below Treeline

Danger Ratings Moderate
Wind Slabs Wind Slabs
Loose Wet Loose Wet

Alpine

Danger Ratings Considerable

Treeline

Danger Ratings Considerable

Below Treeline

Danger Ratings Moderate

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You’re in for a stormy Saturday in the West-North zone. Expect avalanche hazard to increase throughout the day as precipitation accumulates and winds intensify. This could be a good day to step back your terrain travel and simply avoid open slopes greater than 35 degrees.

Discussion

NWAC Spring 2019 Forecast Schedule: Daily avalanche forecasts will end Sunday, April 14th. Look for regional Avalanche and Snowpack Summaries every Friday at noon through May 24th.  Avalanche warnings will be issued as needed throughout the Spring if unusually dangerous avalanche conditions develop.

Snow and Avalanche Discussion

A winter storm will impact the West-North zone Saturday bringing significant precipitation, increasing winds, and eventually a drop in snow levels. This should result in pretty stormy conditions for most locations. We anticipate avalanche hazard to increase during the day, particularly at higher elevations. Be prepared for difficult travel conditions including poor visibility, breakable crust, wet heavy snow, and firm surfaces.

On Friday, NWAC staff traveled near Heather Meadows and on the Easton Glacier of Mt Baker. Each team reported natural and human triggered loose wet avalanches on most aspects as a result of wet heavy surface snow. Some of these avalanches entrained significant snow and became large.

Even though winter-like conditions return to the mountains this weekend, the recent warm weather wreaked havoc on the snowpack. You could encounter opening creeks, sagging cornices, widening glide cracks, and snow shedding from rocks. Use caution if you travel near these common springtime hazards.

Snowpack Discussion

April 9th, 2019

Spring Conditions

The snowpack and weather have shifted solidly to spring-like conditions. A major warm-up started in mid-March with a prolonged period of strong sun and warm temperatures. This created a major difference between the snowpack on sunny slopes and that on shaded aspects. More recently, warm, wet, and sometimes weak spring storms have brought more rain than snow. The bulk of the precipitation with these storms focused on the southern forecast zones. Even so, mid-elevation rain established a dramatic snow line (about 4-4,500ft) below which the snowpack is minimal to non-existent in most zones. Going into the second week in April, intense snow and wind drove a prolonged period of High danger at Mt Hood.

A crown of a very large avalanche (D3+) above Mt. Hood Meadows resort. 04/08/2019. Photo Credit: Peter Moore.

Challenging Weather Forecasts

The Cascades have been experiencing unsettled spring weather with rain to many low and mid-elevation slopes and snow at upper elevations. Spring weather forecasts in the Cascades are notoriously challenging. With these storms, the weather models have been inconsistent and the accuracy has been limited to 12-24 hours, at best. A trend has been significant precipitation amounts for the Mount Hood area and other south-central Cascade volcanoes. 

Very bare southeast aspects of Rock Mtn/Nason Ridge. April 2nd. Photo: Josh Hirshberg

Shrinking Snowpack

From the peak height of snow in mid to late February through early April, mountain weather stations in the 4,000-5,000ft range showed an average of 27% decrease in height of snow. The percentage decrease ranged from 22-29%. This year's spring snowmelt is much earlier than normal. If you’re traveling in the mountains, the loss of snow coverage is most noticeable on southerly, sun-exposed slopes and below 4,000ft. On northerly aspects and slopes above 5,500ft, the snowpack has seen less dramatic changes and has even maintained some dry layers. On upper elevation shaded slopes there’s still potential for large wet slab avalanches with prolonged warm temperatures or high elevation rain events.

A natural loose wet avalanche (D1), Lichtenberg Mtn, N, 4,850ft. 4/7/2019. Photo: Will Govus

Spring avalanche considerations

As you head into the mountains there are a few questions to ask yourself common to spring avalanche conditions:

  1. Can you trigger avalanches due to new snow?

    1. If so, would they be storm slabs or wind slabs? And where?

  2. Can you trigger avalanches due to warming or rain?

    1. Will recent snow be warmed enough to result in loose wet avalanches?

    2. Will these avalanches be predictable point releases or more destructive wet slabs or gouging loose wet avalanches?

    3. What are the recent high and low temperatures and the forecasted temperatures during the time you’ll be in the mountains?

    4. How is the cloud cover contributing to the melting or freezing of surface snow? Did clear skies allow for a sufficient overnight freeze? Will the sun be strong enough to weaken surface layers?

Debris from a natural loose wet avalanche (D2), Lichtenberg Mtn, SW, 5,000ft. 4/7/2019. Photo: Josh Hirshberg

Other Considerations

In addition to daily avalanche hazard, the early snowmelt has created other travel considerations. Some roads and lower elevation slopes may not have enough continuous snow coverage for travel on snow machines. Holes melted around rocks, trees, and creeks could create a fall hazard. When nighttime temperatures and cloud cover allow for surface freezes, bring appropriate equipment to mitigate slip and fall hazard on steep slopes.

The last daily avalanche forecast for all zones will be issued for April 14th. Statewide mountain weather forecast and weekly avalanche condition advisories will continue through May. The weather station data is available year round. Keep checking the advisories and help us out by submitting observations when you are in the mountains.

Glide avalanches and holes opening up in rocky terrain on an east aspect of Mount Herman. 4/3/19 Photo: Andrew Kiefer

Problems

Wind Slabs

Wind Slabs

Forecasted winds should be strong enough to efficiently transport the new snow and drift it into firmer and thicker slabs. Expect new wind slabs to grow throughout the day as more precipitation falls and the wind continues to blow. Stay away from slopes greater than 35 degrees where you find evidence of wind transported snow such as firmer surfaces, uneven snow deposition, or blowing snow. Some of these slabs may be found on mid-slope features where the wind blows the snow across changes in the terrain.

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.

Aspects: All aspects.

Elevations: Alpine, Treeline.

Likelihood

likely

Expected Size

1 - 1
Loose Wet

Loose Wet

While the mid and upper elevations should be receiving snow, lower areas will see rain. Fluctuations in temperatures could bring this rain-snow line into the near treeline band. You want to pay particular attention to places where recent rain falls on the storm snow. This should occur in a band around about 4000 ft. As the surface snow becomes wet and unconsolidated it could avalanche. Steer away from slopes greater than 35 degrees and don’t get surprised by natural loose avalanches originating from steep slopes during periods of heavier rain. At lower elevations, we think the snow will handle the additional rain well, but that doesn’t mean loose wet avalanche are out of the question.

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.

Elevations: Treeline, Below Treeline.

Likelihood

possible

Expected Size

1 - 1