Northwest Avalanche Center NWAC, Northwest Avalanche Center

Olympics Avalanche Forecast

Jan 14th, 2020 10:21AM

Dangerous and reactive storm slabs should be widespread with 12-18” of fresh snow falling at high rates, primarily Tuesday night. Moderate low-level E winds and generally southerly ridge-top winds will blow the low-density snow onto a variety of aspects. Avoid all slopes steeper than 35 degrees.

Summary

Discussion

Fresh snowfall Tuesday night into Wednesday drives the primary avalanche concern in the upper snowpack: storm slabs, particularly on wind-loaded slopes. Perform frequent hand shear tests in the upper 2 ft of the snow to check for layers showing planes or denser layers (cohesive slabs) over less dense (cohesionless) snow which may be produced by winds. Avoid all slopes greater than 35 degrees where you find signs of these instabilities. In wind-sheltered locations, expect Loose Dry avalanches to be running far and fast on all slopes 37 degrees and steeper, particularly above terrain traps. Without recent information, we don’t know whether layers formed earlier in the storm cycle may still be of concern.

The last 10 days have more than doubled the snowpack at Hurricane Ridge and we expect it has also brought much of the below treeline terrain to the threshold depth for avalanche (and recreation). The past week has brought fluctuating snow levels and several intense rounds of weather that have created upper snowpack variability by elevation, with low-density snow on top.

With all the recent snow, deep snow hazards are real. Before heading out, learn about tree well or snow immersion suffocation risks and travel with a partner (www.deepsnowsafety.org). Also, be prepared for the coldest temperatures seen this winter with winds creating frost-bite conditions and the conditions making rescue far more serious.

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 15th, 2020 10:21AM