Avalanche Advisory published on November 17, 2017 @ 1:56 pm
Issued by Aaron Rice - Taos Avalanche Center

Early Season Snowpack Update: With this approaching storm system, it's starting to feel more like winter. 1"-6" of snowfall is forecasted over the next 24 hours at higher elevations. Lasting snow from a November 7th storm is found at 9500' and above, on shady aspects. The lingering snow from these two events will be melting, developing crusts, and faceting. We will be monitoring this early season snow, as it's likely to stick around to become our first problematic weak layer.

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advisory discussion

We will be monitoring conditions and posting updates as the snowpack evolves. This year we will be issuing daily avalanche advisories, as conditions warrant. These posts will be in a format similar to last season.

The Albuquerque National Weather Service is providing us with a Backcountry Recreational Forecast again this year. Check in daily for your mountain weather forecast.

We went out for a stroll on November 15th, to see what was happening with the 2"-3" of snow (0.5" of water) from the November 7th storm.

We found 3-7cm of snow at 9500' and above, predominately on shady aspects. For the most part, the snow grains were 1-2mm facets. We also observed some isolated crusts forming on the surface. Even though some of us have been enjoying late shorts and sandals weather at the valley bottom, we are observing colder temperatures up at high elevations, driving a strong temperature gradient in our shallow snowpack.

(Note: Kachina Peak weather station is located at 12400')

We all recognize that there is not enough snow to ski yet. Things are not looking great in the latest models over Thanksgiving. But if you are chasing snow to the north over the holiday, be sure to check in with the local avalanche center for up-to-date backcountry conditions.

And check back in with us to see how these storms develop.

weather summary

Many people have been asking questions about the developing La Nina conditions, and what that means for a winter forecast here in Northern New Mexico. Kerry Jones with the Albuquerque National Weather Service provided us with some insight as to what this might entail:

"Weak La Nina conditions are favored  (65%) beginning in November or early December and continuing through at least February 2018.    Currently,  sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean are near to below-average across the central and eastern Pacific and near average in the western Pacific.  If La Nina conditions develop,  the general consensus is for a short-lived, weak or moderate event.   In New Mexico,  the stronger the La Nina event the stronger the odds are tilted toward drier than average conditions in the winter and spring.  During the winter and spring seasons following the onset of a typical La Niña, the jet stream and storm track are shifted poleward, with stronger than normal upper level high pressure over the U.S. west coast. 

However, while odds favor a drier than average winter during an established La Niña event, the relationship is weakest across the northern tier of the state and at high elevation stations.  Winter storms during La Niña events tend to be drier and track farther north than usual, however, the highest elevations can capture some moisture from the systems that track over our northern mountains.  Therefore, stations in the north central mountains of New Mexico,  to include the Sangre de Cristos, generally have fewer dry winters during La Niña events.  Even during strong La Niñas, the reduction in precipitation during the winter months is minimal with reductions in long term average precipitation ranging from 82% at Red River and 89% at Santa Fe.  Eagle Nest, for example, actually reported 123% of average precipitation during the strong La Niña events of the past!  Las Vegas is located in the southern portion of the climate division, east of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, and at a lower elevation.  Precipitation at Las Vegas was near or less than average during all six strong La Niña events, with an average 63%.  An examination of wind data shows a reduction in east winds during these years, indicating a possible reduction in moist, upslope systems.

Bottom line:  Weak or moderate La Nina events are not necessarily bad news for northern New Mexico, particularly the  high terrain closer to Colorado."

When looking at the historical weather data with weak La Nina conditions, the news isn't all that bad. We're pretty consistent with snowfall totals in December, January and March. The long-term GFS modeling doesn't look great for us through Thanksgiving.

But this time last year, we did not have much snow yet either. We're hoping that storms begin to track further south, and result in the same big snow totals we saw last December and January.

Here's to some hopeful snowfall!


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.