Northwest Avalanche Center NWAC, Northwest Avalanche Center

Olympics Avalanche Forecast

Jan 12th, 2020 10:02AM

Avalanche conditions will remain dangerous Monday. You can still trigger an avalanche on steep open slopes, especially those with wind drifted snow. Choose lower angled and low consequence terrain for another day while recent storm snow instabilities stabilize.

Summary

Discussion

A large human triggered avalanche was reported today during the brief window of time Hurricane Ridge was open to the public. A skier triggered a 12-16" soft slab avalanche in Sunrise Bowl on an east aspect. The avalanche propagated widely. Two skiers were involved but no one was carried or injured. A small natural slab avalanche was observed on a steep south aspect that likely released Sunday morning. 

With over 2' of snow falling over the last two days, storm instabilities need time to settle out and stabilize. Test how well the recent snow has bonded on small inconsequential test slopes. Steer around steep convexities and avoid unsupported slopes steeper than 35 degrees. Lower density snowfall that accumulates tonight with lighter winds may mask slopes harboring wind slabs formed over the weekend. Give fresh cornices some space when traveling along ridgelines and avoid traveling directly below cornices. Approach this snowpack with caution and take time to investigate the new snow.

With cold temperatures and lots of new snow, you may find wind-sheltered areas with deep uncohesive loose snow. These loose snow avalanches or “sluffs” can be large enough to push you over or knock you into tree wells or open creeks. Be aware of stopping below steep slopes or above hazards like creeks and cliffs. 

After significant storm totals in the past week, deep snow alone can be dangerous. Deep snow around tree-wells and open creeks can pose a hazard for suffocating. Make sure to travel with a partner and to be aware of the danger (www.deepsnowsafety.org). Also, be prepared for the coldest temperatures of the winter over the next several days.

Forecast Schedule

For the 2019-20 winter season, avalanche danger ratings will be issued for the Olympics every Friday through Sunday and during mid-week holidays. During the week, No Rating will be issued but forecasts will include expected conditions and relevant travel advice.  If you are out in the Olympics, share your backcountry observations with us and the greater community.

Snowpack Discussion

January 12th update: In the past week, there have been two fatal avalanche accidents to the east of NWAC's forecast area. One occurred near Kellog, ID and another outside of Baker City, OR. Local avalanche centers will perform accident investigations including final reports. You can find preliminary accident information at avalanche.org.

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

Valid until: Jan 13th, 2020 10:02AM