THIS AVALANCHE ADVISORY EXPIRED ON January 13, 2018 @ 5:30 am
Avalanche Advisory published on January 12, 2018 @ 5:30 am
Issued by Andy Bond - Taos Avalanche Center

MODERATE avalanche danger exists above treeline where our very weak snowpack is being stressed by incremental loading. Human triggered persistent slab avalanches are possible today.   Isolated slopes above 11,000' on northerly aspects have slab/weak layer combinations that can fail on the ground.  LOW danger exists near and below treeline where we don't have enough snow to avalanche. Evaluate snow and terrain carefully, identifying areas of concern. 

2. Moderate

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

1. Low

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

1. Low

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Below Treeline
Generally safe avalanche conditions. Watch for unstable snow on isolated terrain features.
    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: Persistent Slab
  • Type ?
  • Aspect/Elevation ?
  • Likelihood ?
    Certain
    Very Likely
    Likely
    Possible
    Unlikely
  • Size ?
    Historic
    Very Large
    Large
    Small

2 to 4 inches of low density snow fell on Wednesday night without much wind.  Winds have picked up overnight and with snow available for transport we can expect to see some more incremental loading to our weak snowpack.  Isolated slopes above treeline on north to east aspects are holding a deeper snowpack in cross-loaded gullies and concave bowls where we have slab/weak layer combinations and weak depth hoar on the ground.  We appear to be right at the tipping point as we slowly load these slopes with more weight.  Areas of concern are where you find a stiff supportable slabs in the snowpack.   

Avoid steep terrain over 35 degrees where you find a deeper snowpack. Pay attention to bulls-eye clues like shooting cracks, collapse and whumphing sounds as these are indications that you've found a slab/weak layer combination.  Triggering a persistent slab avalanche failing on the ground is possible today.   Avalanches could break 1 to 4 feet deep and cause serious injury. 

advisory discussion

Any concern today will be at higher elevations where we have a snowpack of any significance. We just can't catch a break and get a storm that will help us start to build up our base at lower elevations. Wednesday's storm brought 2 to 4 inches of low density snow and .1 to .2" of water.  Overall, this isn't a great deal of weight we added to the snowpack. However, results yesterday are indicating that we're slowly getting closer to a tipping point of adding enough weight to stress our well developed depth hoar on the ground at higher elevations.  This speaks to how weak our snowpack is right now. It would be great if we picked up a big storm that would give these weak faceted layers a big test.  With new snow available for transport and northwest winds picking up last night and this morning, we're slowly adding a little bit more weight stressing these layers even more.  It's hard to trust our snowpack right now and with incremental wind loading today, we'll bump up the avalanche danger to Moderate.

The persistent slab problem today is manageable as suspect slopes are confined to higher elevations on north to east aspects where you find new and old snow.  These are also the slopes that look most enticing to ski or travel on.  Even though these slopes are isolated and won't propagate very far, the potential is there for larger avalanches breaking to ground.  It also serves as a good reminder to what our future might hold as we slowly build a base in our mountains.   

It's looking like we'll have to wait a bit before our next shot at snow.  If you find yourself needing to get a skiing fix and getting away from this lack of snow depression, think about heading north and be sure to check out avalanches conditions on Avalanche.org

recent observations

Snow remains above 11,000' on north aspects, which is mostly comprised of cohesion-less facets.  At higher elevations we have isolated pockets of slab/facet combinations varying in depth from 1 to 4'.  Overall our snowpack is weak with a poor snowpack structure in place.  On Tuesday we were able to get collapse in a couple areas where weak depth hoar has been capped by a slab.  On Thursday after the 2 to 4" of snow from Wednesday we were able to get a lot more collapse but slopes weren't able to overcome friction releasing downhill. The snowpack remains highly variable in depth and distribution. This is limiting the propagation potential as slabs are not continuous and confined to cross-loaded gullies and concave bowls.  Lingering snow is not always in the obvious starting zones.  Stability tests are indicating that areas where we do have slab/weak layer combinations are not going to be able to handle much weight. 

Photo: Cross-loaded gully on a north aspect above treeline that wasn't able to overcome friction releasing down the slope

Photo: The persistent slab problem

Weather and CURRENT CONDITIONS
weather summary

Dry northwest flow will be the rule for the next several days for us here in the Land of Enchantment.  Temperatures will warm today above normal reaching the upper 30's at 9000'.  Winds have picked up overnight and will remain with us throughout the day (10 - 30 MPH) out of the NW.  We'll keep our fingers crossed that we see some precipitation in the middle of next week as we could certainly use it.  Too much uncertainty in the models right now, so enjoy the warm the sunny weather.

 

Weather observations from the Wheeler Peak Wilderness between 9000 ft. and 13000 ft.
0600 temperature: 16 deg. F.
Max. temperature in the last 24 hours: 18.3 deg. F.
Average wind direction during the last 24 hours: NW
Average wind speed during the last 24 hours: 15 mph
Maximum wind gust in the last 24 hours: 37 mph
New snowfall in the last 24 hours: 0 inches
Total snow depth: 8.2 inches
Two-Day Mountain Weather Forecast Produced in partnership with the Albuquerque NWS
For 9000 ft. to 10000 ft.
Friday Friday Night Saturday
Weather: Mostly Sunny Mostly Clear Mostly Sunny
Temperatures: 38 deg. F. 16 deg. F. 39 deg. F.
Wind Direction: W W NW
Wind Speed: 10-20 5-15 5-10
Expected snowfall: 0 in. 0 in. 0 in.
For 11000 ft. to 13000 ft.
Friday Friday Night Saturday
Weather: Mostly Sunny Mostly Clear Mostly Sunny
Temperatures: 24-31 deg. F. 14 deg. F. 28-33 deg. F.
Wind Direction: NW NW NW
Wind Speed: 10-30 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.