THIS AVALANCHE ADVISORY EXPIRED ON January 26, 2018 @ 5:58 am
Avalanche Advisory published on January 25, 2018 @ 5:58 am
Issued by Andy Bond - Taos Avalanche Center

MODERATE avalanche danger continues to exist near and above treeline due to persistent slab avalanches.  Triggering an avalanche remains possible.  We have a poor snowpack structure on northwest to east aspects where fragile depth hoar has a cohesive slab sitting on top. Evaluate snow and terrain carefully, and avoid travel in areas of concern.  Pay attention to obvious signs of instability like shooting cracks and whumpfing.  Even a small avalanche can be tragic today.

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.

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

Human triggered persistent slab avalanches remain possible today on northwest through east aspects near and above treeline.  The new snow from Sunday (1/21) is becoming more of a cohesive slab that is resting on top of weak and fragile depth hoar (sugary snow) near the ground. You can stay safe, by avoiding terrain steeper than 35 degrees where you find this snowpack structure.  Pay attention to obvious signs of instability like shooting cracks, whumpfing, and collapsing as these are indications that you have found this poor snowpack structure.

With new snow on the ground, it's hard to assess where the old snow was before Sunday. Every slope should be taken with caution as the old snow was not widespread.  We've seen several avalanches start mid-path or below rock bands.  Take the time to dig down into the slope or simply use your ski pole to identify where we have slab/weak layer combinations, looking for weak sugar-like snow near the ground.  Most avalanches would be small, but we do have areas above treeline where a deeper snowpack exists that could produce larger avalanches.  Any avalanche right now would cause serious injury or death with lots of ground hazards still present.

advisory discussion

It's great to see some tracks in our backcountry as the storm on Sunday has finally made it somewhat reasonable to travel in the backcountry.  It's still incredibly thin, and if you're getting out on your boards, if there not already "rock" skis, they will be very quickly.  

Avalanche danger is mostly confined to northwest through east aspects near and above treeline where the 10 to 18 inches of snow from Sunday (1/21) has fallen on the existing snow.  Moderate to strong winds and warming temperatures is turning the new snow into a more cohesive slab that is on top of a weak and fragile snowpack.  We went through a natural avalanche cycle Sunday during the storm and had explosive and skier triggered avalanches on Monday.  We are slowly starting to heal, but continue to get widespread collapsing and shooting cracks on these slopes.  Stability tests are providing even less confidence with the poor snowpack structure we have.  With a shallow, highly variable snowpack and poor snowpack structure, it'll be a while before we can start to trust or snowpack.  On other slopes where this snowpack structure isn't found, don't let your guard down, winds will continue to be able to transport snow on the lee side of ridgelines, in cross-loaded gullies and other wind prone areas.  

We are a storm or two behind our neighbors to the north in southern Colorado, but the recent tragic events outside of Silverton demonstrate that even a small avalanche can be tragic.   With not a ton of great alternative terrain to recreate on, we'll continue to have to be patient.  It might sound like a broken record, but with another prolonged dry period in front of us, we'll be looking at a faceting snowpack on a more widespread scale.  A lot can change, but we could be looking at a volatile snowpack for the remainder to our season, with even smaller storms changing our avalanche danger.  The best thing to do is read the forecast, even as we wait for snow to stay on top of the conditions.

Stay safe out there and if you do get out in the backcountry, submit an observation.  Hopefully we'll see snow soon! 

recent observations

Widespread collapsing and shooting cracks continued to be observed on slopes north through east slopes that had snow on them previously.   We went through a natural avalanche cycle on Sunday during the storm on northerly aspects near and above treeline.  Some of this debris is still visible.  

 Photo: Large Depth Hoar (Sugary Snow) like this is the major culprit of our instability 

Photo: The new snow from Sunday 1/21 resting on top of the weak depth hoar (near the ground).  ECTP13 Sudden Planar on the ground.  The new snow is starting to stiffen and become a more cohesive slab.

Weather and CURRENT CONDITIONS
weather summary

A warmer but breezy day is in store for us today.  Moderate to strong SW winds should keep things cooler than the forecasted temperatures.  A pacific storm system will stay to our north bringing us increased winds and cooler temperatures for Friday.  If you like sunny weather you're in the right place. We could be looking at prolonged high pressure, with no great shot of precipitation in the forecast.  

Weather observations from the Wheeler Peak Wilderness between 9000 ft. and 13000 ft.
0600 temperature: 21.9 deg. F.
Max. temperature in the last 24 hours: 27.7 deg. F.
Average wind direction during the last 24 hours: WSW
Average wind speed during the last 24 hours: 14 mph
Maximum wind gust in the last 24 hours: 24 mph
New snowfall in the last 24 hours: 0 inches
Total snow depth: 18 inches
Two-Day Mountain Weather Forecast Produced in partnership with the Albuquerque NWS
For 9000 ft. to 10000 ft.
Thursday Thursday Night Friday
Weather: Mostly Sunny Mostly Clear Mostly Sunny
Temperatures: 40 deg. F. 23 deg. F. 30 deg. F.
Wind Direction: SW SW SW
Wind Speed: 5-20 10-30 10-30
Expected snowfall: 0 in. 0 in. 0 in.
For 11000 ft. to 13000 ft.
Thursday Thursday Night Friday
Weather: Mostly Sunny Mostly Clear Mostly Sunny
Temperatures: 32 deg. F. 17-22 deg. F. 19-24 deg. F.
Wind Direction: SW SW W
Wind Speed: 15-30 15-30 15-30
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.