Avalanche Forecast Cascades - North East
Wednesday 26th December 2018
Forecaster: Andrew Kiefer
The bottom line: You can still trigger large avalanches that break several feet deep near the ground. Carefully evaluate the snowpack. Travel conservatively and avoid steep, rocky, unsupported slopes at upper elevations.
Cold and clear weather dominated the first week in December, with valley fog and very cold temperatures east of the crest. The surface snow sat around and decomposed. Surface hoar grew large on top of this.
The jet stream took aim at the Pacific Northwest in the 2nd week of December. Most notably, light storms buried and preserved a widespread layer of surface hoar and/or near surface facets on December 9th. From December 9th to December 23rd, storms kept coming. Freezing levels fluctuated, but never moved much above 5000ft throughout the Cascades (although the southernmost volcanoes and Mt. Hood saw rain well above 6000).
Initially, the storm track favored the northern zones. The accompanying avalanche cycle began on December 11th. Most of these slides were soft slabs, but some propagated widely on the December 9th layer. Higher snowfall totals in the West North resulted in very large (D3+) avalanches in the mountains along Hwy 542.
A second, and larger avalanche cycle occurred during heavy snowfall and strong wind events between December 18th and 20th. Although these cycles were once again most prevalent in the northern and eastern zones, big storm totals around Mt. Rainier tipped the balance down south as well. This 2nd cycle was impressive, with very large and destructive avalanches (some D4) reported. The culprit was once again the December 9th surface hoar/facets (and/or the basal facets in the northern and eastern zones).
Today we have a large difference in snowpack depths between the Pacific Crest and the Eastern Slope. This is nothing unusual, as more often than not the west side of the Cascades and the passes get more snow than areas further east. Moving forward, places with a deep snowpack (say greater than 5ft) and warmer temperatures may continue to gain strength. Areas with a shallow snowpack (say less than 3.5ft) may take much longer. In a general and applied sense, this means the avalanche danger/conditions may begin to diverge between the western and eastern zones.
As the skies clear and we move into high pressure, take note as to which avalanche paths have run large on deep, weak layers, and those which haven’t. Be sure to track surface conditions, as this next period of cold, clear weather may create the next weak layer when the storm track does turn back toward us. As always, please share your photos and experiences with us!
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Persistent Slab avalanches can be triggered several days or even weeks after a storm. They require diligent snowpack investigation, conservative terrain selection, and patience. It is still possible to trigger a large avalanche that can break widely across terrain features. Dig down in the snowpack to asses weak layers before committing to avalanche terrain. Avoid thin, rocky, or unsupported slopes. Do not underestimate how far and wide these avalanches could run when identifying areas to stop and regroup.
Aspects: All aspects.
Elevations: All elevations.