THIS AVALANCHE ADVISORY EXPIRED ON March 15, 2017 @ 5:36 am
Avalanche Advisory published on March 14, 2017 @ 5:36 am
Issued by Andy Bond - Taos Avalanche Center

LOW avalanche danger will exist this morning.  As day time warming occurs, avalanche danger will quickly rise to MODERATE near and below treeline on all aspects due to loose wet snow avalanches.  NW winds could help limit the extent of the warming above treeline.  Evaluate snow and terrain carefully and move to slopes with colder snow once signs of loose wet avalanches like rollerballs, or sinking in above your boot tops start to occur. 

1. Low

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Above Treeline
Generally safe avalanche conditions. Watch for unstable snow on isolated terrain features.

2. Moderate

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Near Treeline
Heightened avalanche conditions on specific terrain features. Evaluate snow and terrain carefully; identify features of concern.

2. Moderate

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Below Treeline
Heightened avalanche conditions on specific terrain features. Evaluate snow and terrain carefully; identify features of concern.
    Heightened avalanche conditions on specific terrain features. Evaluate snow and terrain carefully; identify features of concern.
  • 1. Low
  • 2. Moderate
  • 3. Considerable
  • 4. High
  • 5. Extreme
Avalanche Problem 1: Loose Wet
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Today's warm temperatures and strong spring sun will increase the avalanche danger for loose wet avalanches near and below treeline.  This will be like clock work as the sun moves from the east to the south and finishes on the west facing slopes.  Timing is everything to catch that "window" for soft or "corn" like snow.  If you arrive to late you expose yourself to the risk of wet snow avalanches.  If you're in unsupportable wet snow, or seeing rollerballs or natural wet loose sluffs, it's time to head to a shadier aspect or head home. If NW winds increase throughout the day, they could help limit the extent of loose wet avalanches at higher elevations today.

We might be heading towards wet slab avalanches in the days to come, with continued warming and superficial refreezes at night.  These avalanches are hard to forecast for and typically start to become a concern when we are getting prolonged periods above freezing.  This will be something we'll start to monitor for today and the days to come.  

Avalanche Problem 2: Persistent Slab
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With each warm day it is slowly healing our buried faceted weak layer. These facets are rounding and gaining stength on most slopes as stability tests are showing these weak layers are no longer propagating. Although, the persistent slab problem has trended to unlikely, you could still trigger an avalanche on an isolated slope.  Continue to dig and assess the terrain you plan to play on.  Northwest through northeast slopes above treeline are where you are most likely to encounter this facet (weak layer) /slab combination.  

advisory discussion

Spring is here, and with the potential of near record breaking temperatures for the rest of the week, wet snow avalanches will be a concern.  Temperatures at 9000' as of 6:30 AM are already at 36° F. Human triggered wet snow avalanches will be possible today near and below treeline. NW winds today could limit the extent of the warming of the snow surface above treeline but I've included SE through W aspects above treeline in the event that winds back off. Steep sunny slopes in the afternoon should be avoided.   If you are seeking spring "corn" it's better to be early and have to wait than be late and risk yourself to the potential of a wet snow avalanche. Pay attention to the changing snow surface with rapidly rising temperatures and our strong New Mexican sun. Avoid slopes with about 6 inches of wet sloppy snow.  Look for pinwheels and rollerballs or natural wet loose sluffs. If you encounter these conditions head to a shadier aspect or head home and enjoy the extended evening daylight hours.

At some point in the coming days, we might deal with wet slab avalanches.  As warm temperatures and direct sun impact the upper layers of the snowpack, water will start percolating and penetrating down into the snowpack.  When this water hits a crust or some form of structure in the snowpack, the upper wet snow can act like a slab.  These are hard to forecast and usually need a couple of nights of no refreeze or just superficial refreeze of the surface.  This will be something to monitor as these warm temperatures continue to persist.

Although triggering a persistent slab avalanche has become unlikely, we still have a faceted weak layer buried in our snowpack.  Weak layers are still there on northwest through northeast aspects, however most snowpack tests are showing that these weak layers are healing with the recent warm temperatures.  You can still find slopes where these layers are still suspect (See Observations from South Fork Drainage).  Continue to dig and assess the slopes you plan to get on, even a small avalanche could be catastrophic in high consequence terrain.

 

Many of you have been asking and we are going to be teaching a Level 1 avalanche class Friday March 31st - Sunday April 2nd.  For more information please email Andy or Graham at andy@taosavalanchecenter.org or graham@taosavalanchecenter.org

With this week of high pressure, it's great time to practice your avalanche beacon skills with our new weekly beacon practice problem at TSV!

If you're interested in how much snow we've gotten this year check out our recent blog post.  This was written before this last storm, so add 25.5" of snow and 3.15" of SWE to the totals from February which should bring us right around average!

If you get into the backcountry, please drop us a line at Taosavalanchecenter@gmail.com or on the "Submit Observations" tab at the top of the homepage.  Your field observations are extremely helpful, no matter how simple, and we thank all of you who have shared.

If you're looking to get some exercise and support a great cause look into the Ben Myers Ridge-A-Thon.  This event has been going on now for 20 Years. Come hike the ridge at Taos Ski Valley March 17 & 18th and raise some money that benefits our community!

recent observations

On Monday, the winds had calmed down and temperatures warmed throughout the day.  Temperatures only reached the mid 40's at 9000' and stayed cooler than expected. Temperatures around 12,000' just barely reached above freezing, but the strong spring sun was enough to soften up the top few inches of the snow surface on the solar aspects above treeline.     

Snowpack tests are starting to confirm that the warm temperatures are healing our weak layers.  We were able to get a bunch of pits dug on Sunday in the alpine on varying aspects.  Most of these stability tests were not producing any significant results.  With that being said we were able to find weak layers on North aspects that were still propagating.  This was us mostly seeking suspect spots.  Although triggering an avalanche right now would be difficult, there are still slopes that haven't fully healed from the warm the temperatures. North aspects seem to be the most suspect.  

The snow surface right now is real mixed bag, with bullet proof hard slabs, breakable crusts, and areas that have been scoured and are showing inverted tracks from two months ago. Melt-freeze crusts have made its way all the way to mid elevations, and finding softer snow on north facing slopes in the trees is difficult right now.  

Pic; the top few inches of snow softening up on an E aspect

Pic; North aspect around 12,200' on Vallecito where the warm temperatures are still slowly healing the weak layer. This was not the norm in snowpack tests but serves as a reminder that some slopes are still catching up with the healing process.

Pic; Pencil hard wind slab, This pit on a NE aspect around 12,600' we were unable to get the weak layer to propogate.

Weather and CURRENT CONDITIONS
weather summary

Bone dry with May like temperatures will continue today and throughout the weekend.  Temperatures are supposed to reach the low 60's around 9000' today and mid 40's around 12,000'. Ridgetop winds will be light to moderate (10-20 MPH) out of the NW.  A ridge of high pressure to our west will slowly move over New Mexico Wednesday.  The next shot of snow might be next Tuesday, but that's a long ways away.  Until then we'll be seeing warm May like temperatures.  Bring the sunscreen if you're getting out today.

 

Weather observations from the Wheeler Peak Wilderness between 9000 ft. and 13000 ft.
0600 temperature: 27.3 deg. F.
Max. temperature in the last 24 hours: 36 deg. F.
Average wind direction during the last 24 hours: WNW
Average wind speed during the last 24 hours: 14 mph
Maximum wind gust in the last 24 hours: 36 mph
New snowfall in the last 24 hours: 0 inches
Total snow depth: 81.8 inches
Two-Day Mountain Weather Forecast Produced in partnership with the Albuquerque NWS
For 9000 ft. to 10000 ft.
Tuesday Tuesday Night Wednesday
Weather: Mostly Sunny Mostly Clear Mostly Sunny
Temperatures: high to 62 deg. F. low to 31 deg. F. high to 63 deg. F.
Wind Direction: NW NW W
Wind Speed: 5-15 5-15 5-10
Expected snowfall: 0 in. 0 in. 0 in.
For 11000 ft. to 13000 ft.
Tuesday Tuesday Night Wednesday
Weather: Mostly Sunny Mostly Clear Mostly Sunny
Temperatures: high to 48 deg. F. low to 25 deg. F. high to 48 deg. F.
Wind Direction: NW NW W
Wind Speed: 10-20 5-15 5-10
Expected snowfall: 0 in. 0 in. 0 in.
Disclaimer

This advisory applies only to backcountry areas outside established ski area boundaries, Click here for a map of the area. . This advisory describes general avalanche conditions and local variations always occur. This advisory expires 24 hours after the posted time unless otherwise noted. The information in this advisory is provided by the Taos Avalanche Center who is solely responsible for its content.