Mt Hood

Issued: 6:00 PM PST Sunday, March 26, 2017
by Kenny Kramer

NWAC avalanche forecasts apply to backcountry avalanche terrain in the Olympics, Washington Cascades and Mt Hood area. These forecasts do not apply to developed ski areas, avalanche terrain affecting highways and higher terrain on the volcanic peaks above the Cascade crest level.

Fresh wind slabs and cornices will be the main problem Monday. Loose-wet avalanches will become likely on steeper sun exposed slopes during extended sun breaks Monday. Keep terrain selection simple and conservative. Cornices have recently proven dangerous and unpredictable and capable of triggering very large avalanches. 

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Avalanche Problems for Monday

Wind Slabi

Wind slabs can take up to a week to stabilize. They are confined to lee and cross-loaded terrain features and can be avoided by sticking to sheltered or wind scoured areas.

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Loose Weti

Loose wet avalanches occur where water is running through the snowpack, and release at or below the trigger point. Avoid terrain traps such as cliffs, gullies, or tree wells. Exit avalanche terrain when you see pinwheels, roller balls, a slushy surface, or during rain-on-snow events.

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Cornices are easy to identify and are confined to lee and cross-loaded ridges, sub-ridges, and sharp convexities. They are easiest to trigger during periods of rapid growth (new snow and wind), rapid warming, and during rain-on-snow events. Cornices often catch people by surprise when they break farther back onto flatter areas than expected.

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Snowpack Analysis:

Weather and Snowpack

The first week or so of March was very cool and snowy.  NWAC stations at Mt Hood piled up about 6-7 ft of snow.

The 2nd week of March was equally active with non-stop Pacific frontal systems pummeling the PNW. Unfortunately, these systems delivered far more rain than snow. At least two regional avalanche cycles occurred during the stretch. Significant snowpack consolidation occurred over this period due to rainfall and warmer temperatures. 

This past week has also been active weather-wise, but water amounts/snowfall totals have been slightly lower relative to the extreme wetness of the past few weeks. Since Thursday, 3/23, Mt. Hood stations have picked up 20 inches of snow and climbing.

A strong front Sunday, continues to deposit snow as of Sunday evening, with 8 inches of snow since Sunday morning. Winds above treeline have been moderate to strong, from the SE-SW.  

Recent Observations

On Thursday, Mt. Hood Meadows reported widespread, but stubborn shallow hard wind slab, 1-2 ft deep, on the NE slopes between 6000 and 7300 ft. Small loose wet slides remained possible on steeper solar slopes. By Friday, 6-12" storm slabs were sensitive to ski cuts specifically on N-E aspects above treeline. Storm slabs were relatively less reactive near treeline. 

Laura Green was out in the Timberline area on Friday. Moderate winds, wet snow and poor visibility prevented her from accessing terrain above 6500 feet, but she could see active wind transport occurring in the elevations she traveled. 1 natural wet slab, 20 cm deep, was observed below treeline but in general the rain moistened snow below treeline was not very sensitive to human triggering and no other natural wet snow activity was observed. 

Mt Hood patrol were unable to reach terrain above treeline Saturday due to winds and poor visibility. Near treeline, a few triggered wind slabs were able to be released with skis, but were only 1-2 inches deep. Large cornice releases at higher elevations may have released avalanches on the slopes below, but this was unconfirmed due to visibility.

Below treeline, shallow surface snow was producing Rollerballs and small loose-wet slides Saturday afternoon during extended sun breaks.   

Detailed Forecast for Monday:

Rain and snow late Sunday should change to showers with cooling overnight. Showers and moderate ridgetop winds should persist early Monday before tapering late Monday. This should maintain unstable wind slabs on lee slopes below ridges, in exposed terrain near and especially above treeline. 

Recent winds have been mostly SE-S-SW, so firmer wind slab should be found mainly on NW-N-SE slopes near and above treeline. However, due to terrain effects, wind slabs may have formed on a variety of aspects 

Recent cornices are very large. Make sure to avoid areas on ridges where there may be an overhanging cornice as well as travel on steep slopes below cornices! Natural cornice releases and resulting slab avalanches are unpredictable. See a blog post regarding cornices here.