Snow Slabs Set Up for Next Round of Storms
The next round of winter storms is expected to move through Colorado over the remainder of this week and into the weekend. And while the clouds may be moving, the reading on the thermometer will not move much, with Leadville temperatures forecast to not get above freezing for the days ahead. According to WeatherBug.com, more of the same wintry weather will persist across the western U.S. through early next week. Heavy mountain snow, and strong winds remain on tap.
The catalyst for the active weather pattern is a large upper-level low-pressure system that will be settled over the western U.S. today through Friday morning. This will transport waves of moisture from the West Coast into the Rocky Mountains during this time, resulting in drenching rain along the coast and lower elevations and heavy snow in the mountains and higher elevations. Heavy snow will continue to bury the mountains and higher elevations from Washington, Oregon, and northern California eastward into western Montana, western Wyoming and western Colorado. A few more feet of snow will easily pile up in the highest peaks of the Cascades and Rockies, while several more inches of snow continuing to wreak havoc for the lower elevations.
If you must travel through the mountains over the next several days, check the chain rules ahead of time. It is also good to keep a snow emergency kit in your vehicle. This should consist of blankets, water, non-perishable food, jumper cables, mittens, a flashlight, and an extra cell phone charger.
While the fresh snow beckons to backcountry enthusiasts, with the recent avalanche fatalities in Idaho and Montana, it’s always a good measure to check in with the experts at the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) concerning the latest snow conditions.
Here’s the report from CAIC’s Ben Pritchett as of this morning (1/08/2020) at 4:26 a.m.
Forecast Discussion: Although the avalanche conditions are not changing much day-over-day right now, the snow surfaces are changing daily.
These changes in snow texture may make it more difficult to spot problematic hard slabs of snow where you might trigger an avalanche. To avoid triggering a large avalanche, it’s important right now to use a big-picture perspective and all of your senses to identify areas where recent drifting has built hard slabs of snow.
Note how some recent observations of large avalanches begin with a shallower avalanche which steps down into weak layers buried near the ground. After the intense north wind event on January 3rd, and the strong shifting winds in the last few days blowing from the west, southwest, and northwest (now southwest again), what you see on the snow surface may not be exactly what you get further down in the snowpack. We use the aspect and elevation diagram in our avalanche forecast to highlight the most likely slopes to trigger an avalanche, not every place you could. You might as well avoid hard slabs anywhere you find them, even in cross-loaded features on aspects not covered by our diagram.
As a keen observer, use all your tricks to identify these areas of stiff snow. Look broadly for obvious signs of drifting, like cornices or dune-like patterns, or pillowed or dramatic increases in snow height. Up close, look for the texture, but be wary and go more by the feel. Seek areas of softer snow, and consider your route alternatives if you unexpectedly find yourself in stiffer, more consolidated layers snow layers.
With more new snow on the way later this week and into next week, we’ll lose our ability to make relevant snow surface about the present slab and weak layer combinations. Look around now to gather information about where the slabs of hard snow may become buried by next week.
Backcountry Avalanche Forecast for Sawatch Range (Lake County)
Avoid recently drifted slopes to avoid triggering a large slab avalanche. You can recognize these hardened wind-drifts at a distance by their smooth and pillowed texture below ridgelines, in cross-loaded features, or below roll-overs. Look for them on wide-open, near and above treeline slopes. Mostly these problem features face north through east to southeast, though with recently shifting winds, don’t justify traveling on one of these hard slabs just because it’s facing a different direction.
Up close, you’ll recognize them by their stiff snow surfaces and hollow or drummy feel. A small hard-slab avalanche breaking near the surface has the potential to step down, breaking lower in the snowpack and grow larger in size. Whether you might trigger any given steep slope with a hard slab perched on top is difficult to predict. Your best bet is to seek out safer options where you find softer snow in wind-sheltered terrain.
Heads Up Winfield and Vicksburg
In other outdoors news from Leadville Today, as the latest Leadville Ranger Patrick Mercer gets settled into his new office, the Pike and San Isabel National Forests, Cimarron and Comanche National Grasslands (PSICC), distributed a recent media advisory concerning a proposal to reroute approximately 0.2 miles of National Forest System Road (NFSR) 390 (Clear Creek Road) located southeast of Twin Lakes.
NFSR 390 is a highly-used road that provides access to recreation residences in Winfield, rental cabins in Vicksburg, and many Forest Service trailheads. One lane of this road washed out during spring run-off in 2019 and is currently unsafe for normal, two-lane motorized travel. There is a need to provide safe access to National Forest Service lands beyond this washout on NFSR 390. A Notice of Proposed Action and supporting documentation is available HERE.
Project information may also be obtained at the Leadville Ranger District office or by contacting Jamie Krezelok, Hydrologist/ID Team Leader, at 719-269-8542 or Jamie.firstname.lastname@example.org. In order to make a fully informed decision it is important that the responsible official understands any issues or concerns you may have with this proposal and how you believe they could be addressed. In the context of their environmental analysis, “issues” are defined as concerns with the proposed action based on some effect you believe it would cause. In order for your input to be most useful, it should be specific to this proposal.
Support Snowshoe Artist Simon Beck in Lake County
Read the story about internationally renowned Snowshoe Artist Simon Beck and the efforts underway to bring him to Leadville to do one of his biggest snow drawings in the world! Then, please consider a contribution of time or money towards those efforts. Thank You!