THIS AVALANCHE ADVISORY EXPIRED ON March 20, 2017 @ 5:43 am
Avalanche Advisory published on March 19, 2017 @ 5:43 am
Issued by Andy Bond - Taos Avalanche Center

The avalanche danger will quickly rise to MODERATE as loose wet and wet slab avalanches become possible with day time warming and the intense spring sun. Start early and end your day early, as slopes will warm rapidly. Evaluate snow and terrain carefully and move to less steep slopes or slopes with colder snow once the snow becomes wet and unsupportable.

2. Moderate

?

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

2. Moderate

?

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

2. Moderate

?

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
  • Type ?
  • Aspect/Elevation ?
  • Likelihood ?
    Certain
    Very Likely
    Likely
    Possible
    Unlikely
  • Size ?
    Historic
    Very Large
    Large
    Small

Loose wet avalanches will become possible again today at all elevations with continued warm temperatures and the strong spring sun.  Last night was another night without a solid freeze at all elevations. This marks the third night in a row where temperatures did not get below 0° C for any exteded period of time.  We should be off the races again today where we've seen temperatures rise 20° in 4 hours!

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. Start early and head home early as the "window" for good skiing or riding could be a small one again today.

Avalanche Problem 2: Wet Slab
  • Type ?
  • Aspect/Elevation ?
  • Likelihood ?
    Certain
    Very Likely
    Likely
    Possible
    Unlikely
  • Size ?
    Historic
    Very Large
    Large
    Small

With three nights in a row of temperatures hovering right around 0°C at all elevations and warm temps and intense sun during the day, liquid water is starting to penetrate deeper into our colder snowpack. Saturday we had a report of human triggered loose wet avalanche that stepped down 3'.   Wet slab avalanches can be dangerous and are hard to forecast for.  A smaller wet loose avalanche could be enough weight to step down and trigger a bigger wet slab avalanche. Areas to be aware of for wet slab avalanches are steep, rocky and sunny slopes. Dig down into the snow to see where water might be pooling.  If you notice melt-water is pooling, it's time to get off that slope. 

advisory discussion

The high temperatures look to peak these next couple of days as the heat wave continues.  Human triggered wet snow avalanches will again be possible today at all elevations. It's best to get an early start and get off the sunny slopes before they get too wet.  Last night temperatures just got to 0°C at all elevations.  This marks the third night in a row without a solid refreeze and I suspect we are just begininng to see wet snow avalanche activity picking up.  We are keeping the danger rating at MODERATE as we have not observed any natural activity in our area, but reports from near by CO, where two natural wet slab avalanches put 6-8' of debris on highway 550 should serve as a warning of what we could be heading towards.

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. Boot penetration is great way to assess if the slope is suspect.  If you can penetrate deeper than your boot top it's a good idea to find colder snow or head to a less steep slope.  Look for pinwheels and rollerballs or natural wet loose sluffs.  Avoid steep exposed terrain in areas above cliffs or gullies. We're still transitioning from a cold winter like snowpack and this will take some time as the snowpack adjusts to liquid water moving in the snowpack.

Wet slab avalanches remain possible today (See Video about Wet Slabs). We had a report of human triggered wet slab avalanche on Saturday that was started higher up on NE aspect from a smaller wet loose avalanche and stepped down 3'.  This is a much bigger concern than wet loose avalanches.  As warm temperatures and direct sun impact the upper layers of the snowpack, water will start percolating and penetrating down into the colder snowpack where we have weak layers.  When this water hits a crust or some form of structure in the snowpack (See Photo in Obs), the upper wet snow can act like a slab. A lot depends on how the liquid water moves through the snowpack which is different from slope to slope.  A smaller wet loose avalanche has the potential to be enough weight to step down onto a lower crust or even collpase down to wet facets in a shallower snowpack.  These are hard to forecast and I suspect the next two days will be the most problematic as the colder snowpack will take time to adjust to these warm temperatures and water starting to penetrate into this colder snow.    

 

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 high pressure continuing, 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

Saturday was another scorcher of a day.  On an east aspect above treeline we were sinking in to our knees at 10 AM.  Things warmed up quickly and there were reports of small natural loose wet avalanches.  There was also a report of a human triggered loose wet avalanche the stepped down 3' on a NE aspect near treeline. The last two days have felt the warmest of this slew of spring days, with our high sun angle impacting most slopes except for true north aspects above treeline. We're finding water penetrating deeper into our snowpack with each passing day.  Cold snow can still be found in many areas of our snowpack near and above treeline.    

Friday was HOT...  Even at 9:30AM!  We did not get a refreeze on Friday as temperatures remained above freezing at 11,000'.  There was a superficial refreeze of the surface but that was quickly melted by the sun.  Upper elevations still have cold snow down in the snowpack, even on southerly aspects.  Most slopes were getting sloppy by 1:30PM as I was making my exit.  North aspects above treeline have near surface faceting on the surface.  The snow surface quickly changes once you get off a North aspect from cold snow to wet sloppy snow.  The snow is going quickly with these warm temperatures.  Our snowpack is going isothermic below treeline, where we are able to pentetrate all the way to the ground.  

Thursday got off to a slow start with temperatures taking there time to warm up.  We did get a refreeze in the early hours of Thursday morning. Clouds and a moderate breeze at ridgetops kept things locked up until mid morning hours. At lower elevations temperatures rose pretty quickly.  Boot penetration in a lot of spots near and below treeline is a lot greater than our ski penetration. Below treeline, we have a very weak structured snowpack right now, without any form of crusts. Water in the snowpack has been able to move pretty quickly straight to the ground.  Many slopes near and above treeline have varying forms of crusts, where we are starting to observe some percolation coulumns as the water in the upper portions of the snowpack is finding the path of least resistance as it travels downwards.  In shallower areas below treeline we are penetrating all the way to the ground.  Starting to observe more roller balls and pinwheels as the hours above freezing start adding up.

Pic; SE Aspect around 12,000' from Friday.  Cold snow was found 25cm down from the snow surface.  Lot's of crusts where water can pool. Notice how it travels downhill on these crusts. Comparing the two photos below, notice that below treeline, the water is able to freely move all the way to the ground.  At higher elevations where we have several crusts the water pools and eventually makes it through on the path of least resistance.

Pic; looking at how the water is moving in the snowpack on N aspect below treeline. This was done in the morning, you can see the crust 10 cm down where the cold coffee has traveled downhill on the sidewall. 

 

Pic; Small natural loose wet avalanche from Saturday in steep rocky terrain on NE aspect above treeline 

Weather and CURRENT CONDITIONS
weather summary

This record heat will peak the next few days as the ridge of high pressure will stay parked in west Texas.  Last night temperatures just made it freezing or were slightly above.  Today will another HOT day with temps approaching the upper 50's to high 40's.  Winds will be out of the west (5 - 15 MPH).  Another sunny day, bring lots of suncreen!

Weather observations from the Wheeler Peak Wilderness between 9000 ft. and 13000 ft.
0600 temperature: 33.9 deg. F.
Max. temperature in the last 24 hours: 45.8 deg. F.
Average wind direction during the last 24 hours: SW
Average wind speed during the last 24 hours: 15 mph
Maximum wind gust in the last 24 hours: 34 mph
New snowfall in the last 24 hours: 0 inches
Total snow depth: 78.5 inches
Two-Day Mountain Weather Forecast Produced in partnership with the Albuquerque NWS
For 9000 ft. to 10000 ft.
Sunday Sunday Night Monday
Weather: Mostly Sunny Mostly Clear Mostly Sunny then becoming partly cloudy
Temperatures: 64 deg. F. low to 31 deg. F. 65 deg. F.
Wind Direction: W W W
Wind Speed: 5-15 5-15 5-15
Expected snowfall: 0 in. 0 in. 0 in.
For 11000 ft. to 13000 ft.
Sunday Sunday Night Monday
Weather: Mostly sunny in the morning then becoming partly cloudy Mostly Clear Mostly sunny in the morning then becoming partly cloudy
Temperatures: 44 - 53 deg. F. low to 31 deg. F. 44 - 53 deg. F.
Wind Direction: W W W
Wind Speed: 10-20 5-15 5-15
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.