Northwest Avalanche Center NWAC, Northwest Avalanche Center

Cascades - South West Avalanche Forecast

Jan 11th, 2020 10:00AM

The alpine rating is high, the treeline rating is high, and the below treeline rating is considerable. Known problems include Storm Slabs.

If you travel to Mt St Helens, Mt Adams, or Mt Rainier Sunday, you could experience very dangerous avalanche conditions. A series of powerful winter storms continue to pound the West South zone. Avoid traveling on or under any avalanche slope in these locations. 

Summary

Discussion

This weather pattern favors the southern Washington Cascade volcanoes, particularly Mt St Helens, Mt Adams, and Mt Rainier. These locations could see 2-3’ of snow overnight and Sunday adding to already amazing snow totals. Observations from these areas have been nearly impossible due to the veracity of the storms. 

Areas such as Crystal and White Pass will likely experience less avalanche danger, however these locations also received significant snowfall. Don’t allow yourself to be lulled to sleep just because you aren’t in the bullseye of the storm. 

Even away from avalanche slopes, hazards exist such as snow immersion suffocation. Make sure you’re informed and travel with a partner. https://www.deepsnowsafety.org/

Snowpack Discussion

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.

 

Location

Total Snow Depth (in) 1/2/20

Total Snow Depth (in) 1/8/20

Hurricane Ridge

31

51

Heather Meadows Mt Baker

55

95

Washington Pass

49

74

Stevens Pass

41

63

Snoqualmie Pass

22

33

Alpental mid-mountain

44

63

Crystal Mt Green Valley

40

66

Paradise Mt Rainier

54

105

White Pass Upper

43

69

Timberline

36

57

Mt Hood Meadows

36

53

 

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!

-Peter Moore

It’s getting deeper! Photo: Jeremy Allyn

Problems

Storm Slabs

An icon showing Storm Slabs

Likelihood

very likely

Expected Size

1 - 1

In locations with heavy snowfall, avoid all areas where avalanches could start, run, or stop. We expect natural avalanches to occur Sunday, especially during periods of high snowfall rates and intense blowing snow. Any avalanche could be large enough to bury, injure, and kill you. Stormy conditions will make navigating around avalanches terrain difficult particularly at mid and upper elevations. Travel in avalanche terrain is not recommended. 

If you travel to Crystal, White Pass, or other areas away from the volcanoes, turn your attention to the upper snowpack and search for strong over weak snow. You’re most likely to find this at upper elevations and in areas where the wind drifted the snow deeper. Steer around slopes greater than 35 degrees and limit your exposure to avalanche runouts.

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.

Aspects:

All aspects.

Elevations:

All elevations.

Valid until: Jan 12th, 2020 10:00AM