Avalanche Advisory published on February 5, 2018 @ 7:13 am
Issued by Andy Bond - Taos Avalanche Center

Mid-Season Conditions Update 2/5: An unprecedented lack of snow and warm temperatures has made it difficult times if you enjoy sliding on snow this season.  We'll have another week of little to no snow in the forecast.  Below is a summary of the state of the backcountry.  Hopefully we'll see a weather pattern shift as we head into February and March!

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Above Treeline

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Near Treeline

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Below Treeline
advisory discussion

We'll do our best to update the site when conditions warrant, but realities are setting in with little snow and lack of funding for the avalanche center.  Hopefully we can salvage the last few months of winter.  It's been difficult times and our small community is impacted greatly by the lack of winter snow. As much as we love to recreate on snow, the drought here in the Southwest will have big impacts on our rivers, forests and our communities at large.  There's been a lot of talk about how historically bad this season has been for snowfall.  In weather data dating back to 1967, we've never seen a snowpack this low on February 1st.  Currently we sit at a base depth of 8" at 10,860'.  The average height of snow on February 1st is 56.5", with the lowest recorded base depth before this year occurring in 1981 when we had 27" of snow on the ground.  We've also had an incredibly warm January, that has felt more like May than the middle of winter.  The average temperature in January at 11,200' dating back to 1967 is 17.01 degrees Fahrenheit.  This past January we had a top 5 warmest January with an average temperature of 20.75 degrees.  The warmest January we have records for also occurred in 1981 where we had an average temperature of 21.39 degrees.

A season like this, really makes you appreciate how good of season we had last year! We have a ways to go to catch up to years past.

    

One of our biggest issues this year is prolonged dry periods between storms.  We saw our last snowfall on 1/21 when we picked up 10 to 18" in our mountains.  These warm dry periods have not allowed us to build up any form of a base to be able to travel on.  With longer days, higher sun angle, and warm temperatures we've seen solar aspects widdle back down to bare ground or patchy snow.  Our snowpack can be broken down into two zones (Above treeline and Below). Snow does remain on north and shady aspects above 8500' that is comprised of faceting snow ranging from 2 to 20" with higher snowpack depths found at higher elevations.  Some of these slopes have sun or melt-freeze crusts on the surface with weak sugar snow below.

Photo: north aspect around 11,300' on 2/4 where we have a faceted snowpack with the snow 1/21 resting above more developed depth hoar on the ground.

  

Above treeline we have a deeper snowpack on Northwest to East aspects that in some areas has snow from November storms.   This is also where we have slab/weak layer combinations.  Shooting cracks and collapsing have subsided in the last weak, but we are still holding onto our poor snowpack structure.  The storm snow from 1/21 has become more of a cohesive slab (4 finger to 1 finger hard) that is capped by a hard wind slab from the strong winds on 1/26.  Underneath these slabs we have weak sugary depth hoar on or near the ground.  Even with warm temperatures down in town, our higher elevations are still driving a strong temperature gradient continuing the faceting process.  These weak layers right now mostly lie dormant as triggering an avalanche has become harder and harder.   Stability tests continue to indicate how weak fragile these layers are.  Any significant storm adding weight and stress to this snowpack structure will activate these weak layers leading to a more widespread avalanche cycle.

  

Hopefully, we'll get some snow this coming weekend! If and when we do get any significant snow, we could be heading to a more widespread avalanche cycle.  If you find yourself out for hike, you could take a mental picture of where the snow continues to persist as these will be the slopes that will be most suspect when we do finally a get a storm.  Hang in there, it's been a tough winter so far.  With a shallow, thin and highly variable snowpack we'll have to be on our toes as our snowpack will be more susceptible to storms, warming trends, and rain as head into the remainder of winter.

recent observations

What an incredible warm start to February.  It was great to see people enjoy the warm weather in T-Shirts by Williams Lake on 2/4.  Travel from all trail heads is impossible on skis currently as we are back to bare ground with the last week of warm temperatures and high pressure.  For starters things are grim out there, with little snow below and near treeline. Snow still exists above treeline on Northerly aspects but it's hard to get there.  Solar aspects are back to bare ground or patchy snow at all elevations

Continuous snow exists above 8500' on north and shady aspects.  Near and below treeline this snow is shallow and faceting with some areas containing thin sun or melt freeze crusts.  The lower the elevation, the smaller amount of snow.   Above treeline we have a deeper snowpack 2 to 4' with breakable wind crust and supportable hard slabCollapsing and shooting cracks have subsided but we still have a poor snowpack structure.  A big takeaway is that the snow from 1/21 is becoming a more cohesive slab (4F to 1F hard).  On north to east aspects this slab is sitting on top of weak sugary snow.  Right now these persistent weak layers are lying dormant waiting for additional weight (potentially our next significant storm) to become active again.

Weather and CURRENT CONDITIONS
weather summary

We'll have another day of unseasonable temperatures that are 10 to 15 degrees above normal for Monday. An upper level trough will move into our area Tuesday bringing with it a cold front and the chance of very light snowfall on Tuesday, (maybe an inch of accumulation). Northwest winds will pick up Tuesday and Wednesday with a dry Northwest flow.   Temperatures will rebound Thursday and Friday in advance of another storm system that will make its way into New Mexico next weekend.  Models are not in alignment right now, but we'll take any chance of precipitation we can get. 

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.