THIS AVALANCHE ADVISORY EXPIRED ON March 21, 2017 @ 5:31 am
Avalanche Advisory published on March 20, 2017 @ 5:31 am
Issued by Andy Bond - Taos Avalanche Center

Avalanche danger will be LOW early this morning before rising 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

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

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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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 fourth night in a row where temperatures did not get below 0° C for any exteded period of time.  Today should bring slightly cooler temperatures than the last couple, but temperatures will still be well above freezing.  Temperatures have been warming quickly combined with our strong spring sun, slopes have been warming up quickly. It's best to get an early start and avoid traveling on steep slopes once they get wet unspupportable snow.  

As slopes start to warm and you start to encounter unsupportable wet snow, or seeing rollerballs or natural wet loose sluffs, it's time to head to a shadier aspect with colder snow or head home. 

Avalanche Problem 2: Wet Slab
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With four 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' into a wet slab avalanche.   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

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 fourth night in a row without a solid refreeze.  Temperatures are forecasted to be slightly cooler today than the last couple, but temperatures will still be warm at all elevations.  Winds should also back off some today allowing the snow surface to warm up quicker than yesterday at higher elevations.  It's starting to feel a lot like ground's hog day as the forecast hasn't been changing much.  Here are the temperatures for the last 4 days.  These warm temperatures combined with our strong spring sun and high sun angle have quickly warmed slopes as early as the mid-morning hours at all elevations.  As slopes continue to warm throughout the day, avalanche danger is greatest in the afternoon and early evening hours. 

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 as these are indications that avalanche danger is on the rise.  Avoid steep exposed terrain that has wet cohessionless snow in areas above cliffs or gullies. You can also dig down into the snow to see if there is a presecence of melt-water pooling. If you notice water pooling, it's a good idea to avoid that slope as it could be primed for a wet slab avalanche. We're still transitioning from a cold winter like snowpack and this will take some time as the snow 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 and potentially more dangerous.  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 as the colder snowpack will take time to adjust to these warm temperatures and water starting to penetrate into this colder snow.  

Graham is back and will have the forecast for the next couple of days.  There is light at the end of the tunnel as snow looks to return forThursday, with what looks like a more active pattern behind that storm!  March is usually one of our wetter months so as we begin spring here's to winter returning soon!  

 

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.

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

First official day of spring and continued warm temps will stay with us until Wednesday.  Today will be slightly cooler than yesterday high's again should reach the mid 50's at lower elevations and low 40's at higher elevations.  Winds will be light to moderate 5-15 MPH out of the west.  Only a couple more days of heat before our next storm and colder temperatures return for Thursday with what looks like a more active pattern of storms behind that! 

Weather observations from the Wheeler Peak Wilderness between 9000 ft. and 13000 ft.
0600 temperature: 33.3 deg. F.
Max. temperature in the last 24 hours: 44.1 deg. F.
Average wind direction during the last 24 hours: W
Average wind speed during the last 24 hours: 18 mph
Maximum wind gust in the last 24 hours: 35 mph
New snowfall in the last 24 hours: 0 inches
Total snow depth: 77.9 inches
Two-Day Mountain Weather Forecast Produced in partnership with the Albuquerque NWS
For 9000 ft. to 10000 ft.
Monday Monday Night Tuesday
Weather: Mostly Sunny Partly Cloudy Mostly Sunny
Temperatures: 56-64 deg. F. low to 28-33 deg. F. 60-67 deg. F.
Wind Direction: W W SW
Wind Speed: 5-15 5-15 5-15
Expected snowfall: 0 in. 0 in. 0 in.
For 11000 ft. to 13000 ft.
Monday Monday Night Tuesday
Weather: Mostly Sunny Partly Cloudy Mostly Sunny
Temperatures: 38-46 deg. F. low to 30 deg. F. 41-48 deg. F.
Wind Direction: W W SW
Wind Speed: 5-15 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.