Snowpack Summary published on January 26, 2020 @ 5:52 am
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Issued by Andy Bond - Taos Avalanche Center

bottom line:

Persistent Slab avalanches remain the concern for the next two days.  Faceted weak layers in our snowpack can be found at all elevations. Hard slabs near the surface formed from the strong winds on 1/17 and now sit on top of these persistent weak layers. These hard slabs can break in unexpected ways and often times well above you. 

Avalanche Character 1: Persistent Slab
Persistent Slab avalanches can be triggered days to weeks after the last storm. They often propagate across and beyond terrain features that would otherwise confine Wind and Storm Slab avalanches. In some cases they can be triggered remotely, from low-angle terrain or adjacent slopes. Give yourself a wide safety buffer to address the uncertainty.

Numerous faceted weak layers can be found throughout our snowpack at varying depths.  These persistent weak layers continue to show signs of being reactive. Below treeline we have a poor snowpack structure with cohesive slabs from our recent snow storms on top of fragile faceted weak layers.  Near and above treeline we have hard slabs from the strong winds from the 1/17 storm that are capping our persistent weak layers. It's areas on the margins of these hard slabs or near rock outcrops that you'll most likely be able to impact these weak layers.  Hard slabs can be unpredictable and break in unexpected ways. 

North through East aspects near and above treeline have had the most loading from the previous storms and wind events. West and South facing slopes have shallower snowpacks with faceted crusts and weak basal facets or depth hoar found closer to the ground.

Pay attention to bulls-eye clues like loud audible whumf's and shooting cracks. Or take the time to dig down into the snowpack and assess whether these weak layers or present.

 

Snowpack Discussion

Snow in the forecast for Monday won't do much to change our overall avalanche problem of persistent slabs. Snow fall totals look to be light with only a couple of inches forecasted at higher amounts.    Snowpits on NE and E aspects on Saturday had up to 5 faceted weak layers throughout the snowpack that were all showing signs of being reactive in long column tests.  It's tricky times out there right now with a snowpack that is more typical to what we are accustomed to here in Northern New Mexico. 

An overall shallow faceted snowpack, with combinations of faceted weak layers around crusts and hard slabs can be found at all elevations. These hard slabs feel good underfoot, but the layers of concern are found underneath these supportable slabs.  Hard slabs often aren't triggered by the 1st person on the slope, but could be the 5th or 20th.  It's areas where the slab are thinnest or near rock outcrops that you're most likely to trigger an avalanche.  These avalanches can fracture in unexpected ways often times way above you.  

Below treeline we continue to get loud audible whumf's and shooting cracks.  Our shallow snowpack at these elevations has turned into cohesion-less facets or a series of faceted crusts that now has cohesive slabs from the 1/16-1/17 and 1/21 storms on top.  Our below treeline terrain hasn't been a problem for most of the year, but as we start to put cohesive slabs on top, this terrain will become more of problem.

 

Near and above treeline very strong winds from Friday 1/17 have produced hard slabs near the surface with the 3 to 6 of new snow from 1/21 on top of this slab.   We had a remotely triggered avalanche on Friday on a NE aspect on a small grained faceted layer just below this hard slab. This avalanche fractured well above us.

Our snowpack is deceptively shallow, especially on West and South aspects near and above treeline where a hard slab sits on top of fragile faceted crusts and depth hoar on the ground. (See Video) .  North through east aspects at these elevations have a deeper snowpack in spots with mid-pack faceted weak layers interspersed between hard cohesive slabs from previous wind events. 

Enjoyable and safe skiing and riding can still be found on lower angle wind sheltered terrain.

 

The BCA Beacon Basin park is up and operational at the base of the Chair 4 lift at Taos Ski Valley.  This is a great way to brush up on your avalanche transceiver skills. 

Stay safe out there and our next update will be Tuesday Morning.  If you get out, shoot us an observation as this only helps the forecast.

recent observations

While traveling, the snow surface varied between Tuesdays softer new snow to the hard slab which formed on 1/17. In open wind effected terrain, this hard slab made for difficult skinning at times. The hard slab was present on all aspects near and above treeline. Primarily underlying the new snow from Tuesday it sits atop various persistent weak layers, from small grained facets just below this hard slab, to faceted crusts and depth hoar on the ground.  

We continue to get loud audible whumfs and shooting cracks on slopes.  

We have highly variable snowpack depths. On southern and western aspects we have deceivingly shallow slopes, with a poor overall snowpack structure.  Hard slabs sit atop various faceted crusts, with large depth hoar at the base. We got these persistent weak layers to fail under light force.

Our Northern and Eastern slopes also have differing snow depths. Its hard to tell what slopes avalanched during our 1/17 avalanche cycle. In some spots that didn't slide, we found the snowpack to be over 3 meters deep.  Tuesdays 4-6" sit on top of a thick hard slab. This hard slab overlies small grained facets, which failed under moderate to hard force with full propagation.    

West aspects remain stripped, except for cross loaded gullies. Inverted tracks were noticeable.  

 

We continue to get loud audible collapses and shooting cracks in our travels

Crown from a skier triggered avalanche on Friday.  The avalanche ran on small grained facets below the hard slab 

Shallow snowpack on a Southeast aspect above treeline with a hard crust capping weak faceted layers and Depth Hoar

Numerous faceted weak layers on a East aspect above treeline.

Weather and CURRENT CONDITIONS
weather summary

Temperatures this morning are currently in the 20's.  Winds are currently out of the NW  in the teens.  

Sunday: Today will be the last day of warmer weather with high clouds a loft in advance of a storm system pushing its way into New Mexico for Monday.  Winds will be light to moderate out the West.

Monday: Storm totals don't look to be overly impressive with this storm system approaching from the North.  Only a couple of inches of snow is forecasted for Monday.  Winds will be light to moderate out of the west and temperatures look to return more to normal starting Monday night into Tuesday.   

Long Term: It looks like our next shot of snow will be Monday with a chance of light snow showers.  There is another system Wednesday that now looks to be tracking further south.

Weather observations from the Wheeler Peak Wilderness between 9000 ft. and 13000 ft.
0600 temperature: 22 deg. F.
Max. temperature in the last 24 hours: 28 deg. F.
Average wind direction during the last 24 hours: NW
Average wind speed during the last 24 hours: 12 mph
Maximum wind gust in the last 24 hours: 31 mph
New snowfall in the last 24 hours: 0 inches
Total snow depth: 57 inches
Two-Day Mountain Weather Forecast Produced in partnership with the Albuquerque NWS
For 9000 ft. to 10000 ft.
Today Tonight Monday
Weather: Mostly cloudy in the morning then becoming partly cloudy. Partly Cloudy Partly cloudy with slight chance of snow showers in the morning, then mostly cloudy with snow showers likely in the afternoon.
Temperatures: 33 - 35 deg. F. 17-24 deg. F. 31 deg. F.
Wind Direction: W W W
Wind Speed: 5-10 5-10 5-10
Expected snowfall: 0 in. 0 in. 0-2 in.
For 11000 ft. to 13000 ft.
Today Tonight Monday
Weather: Mostly cloudy in the morning then becoming partly cloudy. Partly Cloudy Partly cloudy with slight chance of snow showers in the morning, then cloudy with snow showers likely in the afternoon.
Temperatures: 26 deg. F. 13-20 deg. F. 24 deg. F.
Wind Direction: W W W
Wind Speed: 5-10 5-10 5-10
Expected snowfall: 0 in. 0 in. 0-2 in.
Disclaimer

This snowpack summary applies only to backcountry areas. Click here for a map of the area. This snowpack summary describes general avalanche conditions and local variations always occur. This snowpack summary expires in 48 hours unless otherwise noted.