Northwest Avalanche Center NWAC, Northwest Avalanche Center

Cascades - South West Avalanche Forecast

Jan 9th, 2020 10:00AM

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

Look for the avalanche danger to increase throughout the day Friday as a winter storm brings more snow to the West South zone. Select routes with plenty of options to adapt to changing conditions and navigate around avalanches slopes. Steer away from terrain greater than 35 degrees when you find more than 6 inches of new snow.



While we may find differences in snow totals around the West-South by Friday afternoon, the trend should be the same for all locations. Potential avalanches should become larger and more difficult to manage throughout the day. Consequently, pick travel plans with plenty of options to manage your risk and adapt to changing conditions. Avalanche danger should peak during the afternoon with the most intense snowfall and highest winds. Areas near Paradise could see very dangerous conditions if more snow falls than expected. 

Weather patterns like this seem to favor the volcanoes. However, we have quite a bit of uncertainty with locations such as Crystal and White Pass. Small changes in timing and snow totals could result in locally lower or higher avalanche danger.

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.



Total Snow Depth (in) 1/2/20

Total Snow Depth (in) 1/8/20

Hurricane Ridge



Heather Meadows Mt Baker



Washington Pass



Stevens Pass



Snoqualmie Pass



Alpental mid-mountain



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!

-Peter Moore

It’s getting deeper! Photo: Jeremy Allyn


Storm Slabs

An icon showing Storm Slabs



Expected Size

1 - 1

When you experience periods of heavy snowfall, see shooting cracks, find wind drifts, or observe strong snow over weaker snow you could be dealing with storm slabs. If you encounter these clues, steer around slopes greater than 35 degrees. Recent observations indicate that unstable snow should be limited to the new snow and how it bonds to the current snow surface. In locations,  with less snow, turn your attention to areas where the wind drifted the new snow deeper. 

With such cold temperatures, it’s hard to say if storm slabs will actually form. If you find unconsolidated snow at the surface, anticipate loose dry avalanches. Even though these avalanches are typically small, they may entrain snow and run far in larger terrain. Remember, loose snow in the morning could become a slab in the afternoon as conditions change.

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.


All aspects.


All elevations.

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