The Northwest Avalanche Center (NWAC) is a collaborative effort between the US Forest Service Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center and the non-profit Friends of the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center. The mission of NWAC is to save lives and reduce the impacts of avalanches on recreation, industry and transportation in the Cascade and Olympic Mountains of Washington and northern Oregon through mountain weather and avalanche forecasting, data collection and education.
NWAC employs three professional meteorologists with expertise in both mountain weather and avalanche forecasting. The forecasters are on duty from September through June and produce daily mountain weather and backcountry avalanche forecasts from mid-November when the snow starts to fall through mid-April when spring weather arrives. The forecasters are US Forest Service employees but are housed at the National Weather Service office on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) campus at Sand Point in Seattle.
To supplement the forecasters limited field time, NWAC contracts five professional field observers who provide regular backcountry snowpack information from the Olympics, Cascades and Mt Hood area. The observers provide observations, snowpack data, and media three times a week from selected areas in their respective regions to assist the forecasters with their daily avalanche forecasts. The professional field observer program is funded by the by the Friends of the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center.
NWAC forecasters obtain additional weather and snowpack information from a variety of program cooperators, including the Washington State Department of Transportation avalanche program, ski area professional patrols, the Olympic and Mt Rainier National Park Service rangers, and many others.
The compilation of the above expertise and information enables NWAC to be the best source of mountain weather and avalanche information in the Northwest. NWAC’s forecasts are provided to the public directly through www.nwac.us and are a valuable source of information for a wide variety of weather forecasting agencies and private companies.
In an effort to produce the best mountain weather and avalanche forecasts possible, NWAC forecasters maintain one of the most comprehensive weather data network of its kind in the United States. The network consists of 25 remote automated weather stations (most consisting of at least two or more sub-stations producing a total of 47 separate data sites) that provide hourly precipitation, snow depth, temperature, wind and relative humidity data to the NWAC forecasters. Most stations are automatically linked to the NWAC web site to help provide the public with real-time weather and snowpack data. NWAC utilizes the mountain weather data to create more accurate forecasts, and disseminates the information to cooperators for planning, maintenance and avalanche control purposes.
The NWAC education program is run by the Friends of the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center and focuses on providing free, basic 1-2 hour avalanche awareness classes. The program offers between 120 and 150 classes every year at local outdoor, ski and snowmobile shops as well as by special arrangement with a variety of organizations. The education program is run by a program director and contracts roughly 20 instructors who have been trained by the American Association of Avalanche Research and Education to offer the premier avalanche education curriculum available.
In addition to our basic adult awareness classes, we also offer a growing youth specific program that we bring to schools and youth programs throughout the Northwest. This program focuses on young adults in the 12-18 age range.
Beyond basic awareness, we also offer a unique workshop series called “Going Deep” which focuses on decision making in avalanche terrain for experienced backcountry users. This program brings in leaders in the field of avalanche education and consists of five evening workshops offered throughout the winter at various locations in Seattle and Portland.
Lastly, NWAC serves as a clearing house for information related to avalanche safety. The education pages on our website are full of valuable resources, and we maintain an up-to-date calendar of all avalanche education opportunities offered by various companies and organizations in the region, including a list of all of the Level 1-3 avalanche classes offered by the private sector.
The NWAC forecasters are housed at the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Seattle, Washington, at the Western Regional Headquarters of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) at Sandpoint. The National Weather Service provides in-kind contributions of office space, computer, weather and satellite data access, and dissemination services.
The Friends of the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center consists of three part time employees who work remotely managing the education and observer programs as well as all of the business aspects of NWAC including fundraising, public outreach, event planning, media relations and the nwac.us website. The Friends of the Northwest Weather and Avalanche is a registered 501©3 non-profit and is overseen by a 14-member board of directors. A professional Advisory Council provides input on the operations and direction of NWAC.
The Northwest Avalanche Center is cooperatively funded by a variety of federal, state and private entities. The Northwest Avalanche Center is funded by six primary cooperators; US Forest Service, Washington State Department of Transportation, Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission (including Snowmobile and Snowpark Programs), National Park Service, Pacific Northwest Ski Areas Association, and the NW Winter Sports Foundation.
The Friends of the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center is funded entirely by private donations from companies, foundations and individuals. FOAC raises these funds through a combination of fundraising events, website advertising, grants and an active membership program for supportive individuals, companies and organizations.
The total 2013-14 budget for NWAC is roughly $630,000, comprised of a $350,000 budget for the USFS Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center and a $280,000 budget for the Friends of the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center.