Avalanche Update: Calm Before the Next Storm
by Matt Huber, Colorado Avalanche Information Center
Issued on Monday, Dec. 23, 2019 at 7:46 a.m.
It has been well over a week now since our last storm. The red and orange in the daily avalanche forecasts are being replaced by yellow and even green in some areas and for many, our thoughts are beginning to focus on the next storm.
The next storm is forecast to arrive late Tuesday (Christmas Eve), bringing periods heavy snow to many portions of the Central Mountains and stressing an already weak snowpack. As hard as it may be though, don’t let the promise of fresh snow Wednesday distract you from the fact that you can still trigger an avalanche today. The types of avalanches that you can trigger today are certainly not something to lose focus on; they will likely break deep in the snowpack near the ground and be very hard to escape. The tricky part is that the obvious signs of an unstable snowpack are diminishing. Shooting cracks and the rolling thunder of large scale collapses are not sending up the red flags as easily as before. Digging pits is a great way to find the weak snow structure, but remember when making your decisions that snowpits represent only an isolated portion of the slope.
You will still need to choose your terrain carefully to avoid triggering and getting caught in an avalanche. If this sounds complicated, it is. The easiest way reduce your chances of being caught is to give steep slopes a wide buffer, even if you are on low-angled terrain near or below.
If you are planning a multi-day trip into the backcountry, the Christmas Eve storm does look to have the potential to raise the avalanche danger. Solid trip planning and checking forecasts frequently will help you have a safer, more enjoyable trip when the unexpected events inevitably happen.
Summary for Sawatch Range (Lake County)
Provided by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center on December 23, 2019.
The snowpack is slowly stabilizing and avalanche activity is decreasing but don’t be fooled into thinking avalanche conditions are safe. A thick slab of snow from our mid-December storm rests on top of weak, non-cohesive layers of snow that can collapse with the weight of a rider. If you collapse this weak layer, the resulting avalanche can be large and very wide, certainly capable of burying you.
The time period of dry weather that we are in, with a suspect snowpack structure and few signs of unstable snow, can be tricky. Don’t get lured onto steep slopes because you see multiple tracks without an avalanche. The persistent avalanche problems that we are dealing with can act in surprising ways including avalanches on slopes with many tracks. To minimize your risk to avalanches stick to slopes less than 35 degrees and/or slopes that are sheltered from recent wind loading.
Avalanche Program Highlighted on TV
Faculty and students of Colorado Mountain College’s avalanche science program will be featured in an upcoming news special airing during the holidays. The half-hour program, “Colorado Avalanches: The Science Behind the Slides,” details last March’s historic avalanches.
It will air three times
- Wednesday, Dec. 25 at 5:30 p.m. on KDVR Fox 31,
- Wednesday, Dec. 25 at 7:30 p.m. on KWGN Channel 2,
- Wednesday, Jan. 1 at 10 a.m. on KWGN Channel 2.
The special features CMC’s avalanche science program in the second segment of the show.
First Day of Winter at Twin Lakes
Avalanche 2019: The Full Report
Last May, Leadville Today was there when Dr. Ethan Greene, Director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) gave his presentation about the historic 2019 avalanche season in Colorado. The snow slide events that happened between March 1 and March 9, 2019, are fully outlined in this half-hour video presentation that takes viewers on a review of what the leading CAIC expert in the state describes as the “greatest destructive hits.” Discover what the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), CAIC and a slew of emergency responders across Colorado endured during these legendary weather events.
Check out some never-before-seen video of powder-cloud avalanches running across I-70 in Ten Mile Canyon, brilliant infra-red photography of nighttime avalanche mitigation, and the helicopter work that happens high above some of Colorado’s tallest passes as CAIC and CDOT work together bringing down the dangerous cornice and gigantic snowfields with explosives that can have sometimes have surprising outcomes.
Have you ever heard of the Disney Avalanche path? It was 1957 and Disney studios wanted to film an avalanche so they coordinated with the state highway department and triggered one up near Berthoud Pass. Find out what happened next – and what happened again on March 5, 2019, (without fatalities!) – in this brilliant, fact-packed presentation which was shown to a packed house at last week’s meeting of the Lake County Office of Emergency Management.
Did you know that the Hinsdale County Sheriff’s home was completely wiped out in a historic snow event that nearly cost him and his two daughters their lives?
Find out how they are doing. And a bit closer to home watch as the cars that got caught up in the “Y” Chute Avalanche on Highway 91 get plucked out of a pine-tree-packed debris field by an emergency responder.
Did you know – and some of you do because you LIVED through it – that site of the deadliest Avalanche in Colorado history happened in southern Lake County in the Village of Twin Lakes in 1962? Was it the same path that shut down the highway and took out power during the recent March 9 slide at Monitor Rock? Find out as Dr. Greene shows the “Atlas of Avalanches” map for Twin Lakes.
If you’ve got avalanche questions, Dr. Greene has the answers, and if he doesn’t, he and the CAIC team know where to find them. Thanks for all the great intel, Ethan! Colorado’s fortunate to have such a solid CAIC team and America’s highest city is grateful to have four members of that staff living right here in Leadville Today.