Avalanche Forecast Cascades - South West

Wednesday 26th December 2018

Avalanche Danger Ratings Wed 26th Dec 6:05PM Danger Ratings Alpine: Moderate Danger Ratings Treeline: Moderate Danger Ratings Below Treeline: Moderate
Recent Trend Last 10 days' forecasts

Forecaster: Robert Hahn

Date Issued:

Valid Until:

The bottom line: The sunny skies and fluffy snow may tempt you onto larger terrain, but think twice. Winds blowing snow near ridgelines have created slabs large enough to ruin your day if triggered. Very large avalanches have been triggered on a deep weak layer within the last week and avalanche professionals continue to give large and consequential avalanche terrain healthy respect.

Snowpack and Avalanche Discussion

An NWAC observer visited East Peak on Wednesday. He found low-density non-cohesive snow sitting on a strong 12/22 crust down 10-15 inches at mid elevations. On a pit at 6400 ft, E aspect, Facets identified below the crust were rounding, still reactive, but would be difficult to trigger under the strong crust. The deep persistent slab layer buried 12/9 was down 4+ ft and is becoming less reactive in propagation tests.

Regional Synopsis

In most parts of the state, a stout melt freeze crust was formed when it rained to high elevations around Thanksgiving. The one exception to this event was in the East North Zone, where the precipitation from the Thanksgiving storm was all snow. A quick storm at the end of November put a small amount of snow above the melt-freeze crust, and preserved the older basal facets in the northeastern areas.

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!

Happy Holidays

Weather Synopsis

A trough centered over the Intermountain West will bring cool N-NW flow to the region as a broad ridge builds offshore on Thursday. The flow will be sufficiently moist to keep low clouds, fog, and a chance of flurries in the forecast. Very weak NW-SE oriented convergence zones will locally enhance snow and cloud in parts of the west slopes Cascades foothills and into the lower passes. Clouds will decrease throughout the day.

Late Thursday night some light snow will arrive in the Olympic mountains from the west as a significant warm front approaches. The Cascades will remain clear and cold.

On Friday, the warm front will be draped parallel to the British Colombia and Washington coastlines. Clouds will lower and thicken with light snow arriving in the Olympics in the morning and in the Cascades by early afternoon. 

Friday night the warm front crosses the region bringing moderate to heavy snow changing to rain at Snoqualmie Pass around midnight as easterly flow in the evening switches to westerly, while Stevens Pass will change to rain after midnight.

Offline, Anywhere Members can email a forecast to themselves, meaning it's available offline Join