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BACKCOUNTRY AVALANCHE FORECAST

MT HOOD

ISSUED
Saturday, January 18, 2020 - 6:14PM Sat, Jan 18, 2020 - 6:14PM
AUTHOR
Dennis D'Amico
THE BOTTOM LINE

There’s a high degree of uncertainty as the snowpack continues to adjust to a milder weather pattern. Large slab avalanches may still be sensitive on steep wind loaded slopes at upper elevations while loose wet avalanches are likely on very steep sunny slopes. 

AVALANCHE DANGERi

Sunday, January 19, 2020
Above Treeline Considerable (3)
Near Treeline Considerable (3)
Below Treeline Moderate (2)

OUTLOOKi

Monday, January 20, 2020
Moderate (2)
Moderate (2)
Moderate (2)

OUTLOOKi

Monday, January 20, 2020
2 2 2
Danger Scalei
  • Low (1)
  • Moderate (2)
  • Considerable (3)
  • High (4)
  • Extreme (5)

FORECAST DISCUSSION

We are in the midst of a weather regime change as we leave the cold, windy and dry snow pattern of the last 10 days behind us and move toward more seasonable temperatures. 

Shallow storm slabs were easily triggered on any slope steeper than 40 degrees below treeline as temperatures climbed to near freezing during the morning hours. In the afternoon as snow changed to very light rain below 5000', small loose wet avalanches released naturally on very steep slopes. No avalanche or snowpack observations were received from the upper mountain Saturday increasing the uncertainty at upper elevations. 

AVALANCHE PROBLEM #1i

  • Storm Slab

    Avalanche Problemi
  • Above Treeline
    Near Treeline
    Below Treeline
    Aspect/Elevationi
  • Unlikely
    Possible
    Likely
    Very Likely
    Almost Certain
    Likelihoodi
  • Small (D1)
    Large (D2)
    Very Large (D3)
    Historic (D4-5)
    Sizei

Recently formed wind or storm slabs layered on top of colder weaker snow may still be sensitive to human triggering on Sunday. Steer around steep open slopes steeper than 35 degrees at mid and upper elevations, especially slopes with wind drifted snow capable of producing larger avalanches. Give fresh cornices some space when traveling along ridgelines and avoid traveling on slopes directly below cornices.

It's been several days since very large avalanches were triggered by explosives above treeline but until avalanche conditions improve, don't linger in canyons and gullies connected to large avalanche paths on the upper mountain.

 

AVALANCHE PROBLEM #2i

  • Loose Wet

    Avalanche Problemi
  • Above Treeline
    Near Treeline
    Below Treeline
    Aspect/Elevationi
  • Unlikely
    Possible
    Likely
    Very Likely
    Almost Certain
    Likelihoodi
  • Small (D1)
    Large (D2)
    Very Large (D3)
    Historic (D4-5)
    Sizei
Photo for Loose Wet

Loose Wet Avalanche Example (1/18/2020)

Rising freezing levels and sunshine on Sunday will increase the likelihood of loose wet avalanches on steep sunny slopes. Pay attention to changing surface conditions. If the surface snow becomes wet, you see natural pinwheels or natural wet avalanches, it's time to avoid nearby steep slopes. 

Loose wet avalanches may surprise you if they become large and powerful by entraining recent cold snow found underneath. Be aware of terrain traps like cliff bands or gullies that would amplify the consequences of a loose wet avalanche.  

 

January 16th, 2020 (The regional synopsis is updated every Thursday @ 6 pm)

In the past week and a half, there have been five avalanche fatalities in three separate accidents in the US. 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.

From January 9th to 16th the Pacific Northwest slid into deep winter. A cold and snowy regime brought a nearly continuous barrage of storms through the area. Temperatures bottomed out as modified arctic air made its way south from interior Canada, and many stations recorded the lowest temperatures of the season so far. A snowpack has been growing at lower elevations due to some lowland snow on both sides of the Cascades.  NWAC’s snow depth climatology report shows most stations have surpassed average depths on the ground for this time of year. Quite the comeback from two weeks ago, when most were at 25-64% of normal. 

Location

Total Snow Depth (in) 1/8/20

Total Snow Depth (in) 1/16/20

Hurricane Ridge

51

91

Heather Meadows Mt Baker

95

126

Stevens Pass

63

85

Snoqualmie Pass

33

77

Mission Ridge Mid Mtn

18

28

Crystal Mt Green Valley

66

92

Paradise Mt Rainier

105

138

White Pass Upper

69

110

Timberline

57

118

Mt Hood Meadows

53

98

Snow depths continued to rise. Total snow depths doubled in some locations.

The mountains went through a period of prolonged dangerous to very dangerous conditions as the snow kept coming. Many locations picked up over a foot of new snow per day for a number of days in a row, and storm slab instability was widely experienced across the region. At times, instabilities within new snow layers were very reactive, and you didn’t have to do much to provoke an avalanche. Many people triggered small to large soft slab avalanches, even well below treeline. The cold temperatures tended to preserve these instabilities longer than usual during this time. 

Small ski triggered storm slab near Mt Hood Meadows. January 11, 2020. Scott Norton photo.

This cold, low density snow was also susceptible to wind drifting as westerly winds buffeted the alpine zone from the 8th to the 15th. On the 15th the mean winds shifted, and a south and east wind event disturbed the powder on open, exposed terrain near the passes and at upper elevations throughout the region. This created wind slab problems in some unusual locations.

Wind slabs formed over the low density powder snow. Mt Baker Backcountry. January 15, 2020. Zack McGill photo.

Trailbreaking in undisturbed snow was often very deep and difficult. In most places at any point in the week you could step off your skis or machine and sink in up to your chest in deep powder snow. The deep snow presented hazards of its own such as tree wells, and made it very easy to get stuck on a machine or lose a ski. Many folks experienced excellent, deep powder conditions and stuck to conservative terrain choices. 

-MP

A cold winter’s day over the Chiwaukum Range, from Stevens Pass. Matt Primomo photo.

No Corresponding Mountain Weather Forecast Available