Avalanche Advisory published on January 30, 2018 @ 6:10 am
Issued by Andy Bond - Taos Avalanche Center

Mid-Season Conditions Update: An unprecedented lack of snow and warm temperatures has made it difficult times if you enjoy sliding on snow this season.  The long-term outlook isn't looking all that promising for the next two weeks.  A deeper snowpack exists above treeline where we have slab/weak layer combinations and weak and fragile depth hoar on or near the ground.   If heading into the mountains be aware of slopes that contain these stronger slab layers with weak faceted snow beneath.

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Above Treeline

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Near Treeline

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Below Treeline
Avalanche Problem 1: Persistent Slab
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    Very Large

Slopes of concern can be found on Northwest to East aspects above treeline. These are areas where you are most likely to trigger an avalanche on buried persistent weak layers on or near the ground.  Strong winds (gusting 70 MPH) on Friday 1/26 have formed hard wind slabs on the surface that are capping weak faceted snow. Supportable surface slabs can feel secure, but it's the weak faceted snow beneath that's the issue. Dig down onto the slope to assess whether the slope harbors these slab/weak layer combinations.  Continued observations of collapsing and shooting cracks is a good reminder that our snowpack is weak and fragile on specific slopes. 

Pay attention to obvious signs of instability like cracking and collapsing. Avoid slopes that feel hollow or drummy.  Continue to use good travel techniques, being mindful of steep slopes above. Most avalanches would be small, but any ride could cause serious injury in or thin shallow snowpack with lots of ground hazards present.     

advisory discussion

Due to low snow here in Northern New Mexico and lack of funding for the avalanche center, we are pulling our daily avalanche advisory product. We'll do our best to update conditions as they change for the rest the season as 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. Hopefully we'll see a major weather pattern shift as this drought will have a major impact not just for the winter, but also as we shift into spring and summer.  We'll keep or fingers crossed that the end of February and March will bring some much needed snow.      

We're stuck in an all time historically bad winter that is shattering all types of records for lack of snow and warm temperatures. Currently our mountains are 18% - 25% of normal for snow water equivalent, and it's obvious the storm track has stayed well to the north of the desert Southwest.  It's looking like the start of February is going to continue this trend with no significant chances of snow in the long-term outlook.  Skiing and riding conditions are poor at best with breakable wind crusts, and lots of ground hazards present.  These are challenging times if you enjoy sliding on snow!

Believe it or not, we do have snow above treeline on North to East aspects that warrants caution.  Avalanches are becoming harder and harder to trigger since or last natural avalanche cycle Sunday 1/21, but the consequences remain serious.  Strong winds on Friday 1/26 have produced a hard wind slab on the surface in alpine terrain.  Beneath that we have weak and fragile faceted depth hoar on or near the ground.  Other slopes have a deeper snowpack with several slab/weak layer combinations that deserve caution. Check out this video from 1/27.  Dig down into the slope to assess whether the slab is able to propagate on any of these weak layers. With lots of spatial variability, every slope you plan to travel on should be approached with caution, as things can change quickly.

With another week or two of high pressure our snowpack will be quickly changing and "faceting out" with cold clear nights, and warm sunny days promoting strong temperature gradients in our shallow snowpack.  Near and below treeline the snowpack is mostly faceted snow that is of little concern right now.  We'll all be excited when we do see another storm make it's way to Northern New Mexico, but a weak faceted snowpack won't be able to hold much weight.  Even though we're approaching February, our conditions or more typical of an early season snowpack that we're accustomed to in November.  Long-term models are not looking great for us.  Hopefully things will change, as we could really use the snow, not just for recreation but for wild fire season, and our farmers.  If you want to get away to ski, think about heading to Canada!

recent observations

It's felt more like May than it does the end of January recently.  Southern aspects are slowly melting away back to ground with cold snow still persisting on higher elevation northerly aspects. Strong WSW winds on 1/26 have left hard wind slabs above treeline that is capping our snow from Sunday (1/21) and sugary depth hoar beneath that. In other places the strong winds have scoured back to bare ground and further in others has left breakable wind crust.  Not great conditions to make a turn!  Our snowpack at lower elevations is quickly settling and faceting out, or melting away on solar aspects with our warm temperatures and strong sun.  

Above treeline we continue to have a poor snowpack structure with weak fragile depth hoar and slab/weak layer combinations.  


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.