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ARCHIVED - Forecasts expire after 24 hours.
Issued
Fri, January 19th, 2018 - 7:00AM
Expires
Sat, January 20th, 2018 - 7:00AM
Forecaster
Heather Thamm
Avalanche risk The Bottom Line

A  CONSIDERABLE  avalanche danger remains at elevations above 2,500′ in the Turnagain Pass area. Triggering an isolated storm slab or a very large Deep Slab avalanche (3-8+ feet) is trending towards possible today. However, it is only the 2nd day after a storm and a lot of uncertainty exists about how the snowpack is adjusting to its new load. Today is a day to follow the ‘travel advice’ for  CONSIDERABLE  danger:  Careful snowpack evaluation, cautious route-finding and conservative decision making.

Below 2500, treeline, the avalanche danger is MODERATE where a crust is helping to stabilize the snowpack, but an avalanche from above could run into this zone.  There is  LOW  avalanche danger below treeline where very little snow exists.

**Heightened avalanche conditions exist in the Summit Lake zone. Click HERE for recent observations.  

Fri, January 19th, 2018
Alpine
Above 2,500'
3 - Considerable
Avalanche risk
Treeline
1,000'-2,500'
2 - Moderate
Avalanche risk
Below Treeline
Below 1,000'
1 - Low
Avalanche risk
0 - No Rating
1 - Low
2 - Moderate
3 - Considerable
4 - High
5 - Extreme
Avalanche risk Avalanche risk Avalanche risk Avalanche risk Avalanche risk
Travel Advice 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. Dangerous avalanche conditions. Careful snowpack evaluation, cautious route-finding, and conservative decision-making essential. Very dangerous avalanche conditions. Travel in avalanche terrain not recommended. Extraordinarily dangerous avalanche conditions. Avoid all avalanche terrain.
Likelihood of Avalanches Natural and human-triggered avalanches unlikely. Natural avalanches unlikely; human-triggered avalanches possible. Natural avalanches possible; human-triggered avalanches likely. Natural avalanches likely; human-triggered avalanches very likely. Natural and human-triggered avalanches certain.
Avalanche Size and Distribution Small avalanches in isolated areas or extreme terrain. Small avalanches in specific areas; or large avalanches in isolated areas. Small avalanches in many areas; or large avalanches in specific areas; or very large avalanches in isolated areas. Large avalanches in many areas; or very large avalanches in specific areas. Very large avalanches in many areas.
Avalanche Problem 1
  • Deep Persistent Slabs
    Deep Persistent Slabs
  • Certain
    Very Likely
    Likely
    Possible
    Unlikely
    Likelihood
  • Historic (D4-5)
    Very Large (D3)
    Large (D2)
    Small (D1)
    Size
Deep Persistent Slabs
Deep Persistent Slab avalanches are the release of a thick cohesive layer of hard snow (a slab), when the bond breaks between the slab and an underlying persistent weak layer deep in the snowpack. The most common persistent weak layers involved in deep, persistent slabs are depth hoar or facets surrounding a deeply buried crust. Deep Persistent Slabs are typically hard to trigger, are very destructive and dangerous due to the large mass of snow involved, and can persist for months once developed. They are often triggered from areas where the snow is shallow and weak, and are particularly difficult to forecast for and manage.

Likelihood of Avalanches
Terms such as "unlikely", "likely", and "certain" are used to define the scale, with the chance of triggering or observing avalanches increasing as we move up the scale. For our purposes, "Unlikely" means that few avalanches could be triggered in avalanche terrain and natural avalanches are not expected. "Certain" means that humans will be able to trigger avalanches on many slopes, and natural avalanches are expected.

Size of Avalanches
Avalanche size is defined by the largest potential avalanche, or expected range of sizes related to the problem in question. Assigned size is a qualitative estimate based on the destructive classification system and requires specialists to estimate the harm avalanches may cause to hypothetical objects located in the avalanche track (AAA 2016, CAA 2014). Under this schema, "Small" avalanches are not large enough to bury humans and are relatively harmless unless they carry people over cliffs or through trees or rocks. Moving up the scale, avalanches become "Large" enough to bury, injure, or kill people. "Very Large" avalanches may bury or destroy vehicles or houses, and "Historic" avalanches are massive events capable of altering the landscape.

Signal Word Size (D scale) Simple Descriptor
Small 1 Unlikely to bury a person
Large 2 Can bury a person
Very Large 3 Can destroy a house
Historic 4 & 5 Can destroy part or all of a village
More info at Avalanche.org

Several storms this week brought 3-6+’ of snow to the upper elevations and ended on Wednesday. This last storm caused a widespread avalanche cycle including: a very large D3 avalanche on the SW face of Sunburst, and dozens of large wet avalanches in the mid elevations. Above freezing temps were noted in the alpine during this cycle and rain may have reached ~3000’ at some point, but this has not been confirmed with field data. What we do know is this wet snow has frozen into a solid stable crust below 2500’, but in the alpine this moist snow layer gradually goes away and is not obvious due to new snow covering it up. Basically there is an invisible gray line between Treeline and the Alpine where we go from a stable snowpack to a Deep Persistent Slab problem, where several weak layers (buried surface hoar and facets) are sitting below 3-8+ feet of snow. This avalanche problem comes with a lot of uncertainty due to how deeply buried these layers are. It will be impossible to know where the thinner areas of the snowpack are – likely trigger spots. A snowmachine or a person may get away with riding on steeper slopes, but if a thinner area is found, the consequences could be unsurvivable if caught. This is no beast to mess around with. Keeping your terrain choices conservative in the Alpine will be key. This means choosing low consequence terrain and avoiding large steep slopes.

 Keep in mind:

  1. Obvious signs of instability like cracking or collapsing “whumpfing” may not be present until it’s too late
  2. Be aware of people above and below you, an avalanche from above could run into the treeline elevation band
  3. Several tracks could be on a slope before someone finds a trigger spot
  4. Remote triggering from above, below or adjacent to a steep slope is possible from a thinner area of the snowpack
  5. Snow pits and stability tests may not be representative due to how deeply buried these weak layers are

 

Yesterday we investigated the avalanche on Sunburst and found the New Year’s buried surface hoar to be the most likely culprit. This avalanche wraps around the West Ridge near the skin track all the way to the gully below the weather station (~3/4 mile) and filled Taylor Creek up with debris. 

 

 

Debris in Taylor Creek

 

 

Snow pit at 3300′ just above the crown on a W aspect of Sunburst. 

Avalanche Problem 2
  • Storm Slabs
    Storm Slabs
  • Certain
    Very Likely
    Likely
    Possible
    Unlikely
    Likelihood
  • Historic (D4-5)
    Very Large (D3)
    Large (D2)
    Small (D1)
    Size
Storm Slabs
Storm Slab avalanches are the release of a cohesive layer (a slab) of new snow that breaks within new snow or on the old snow surface. Storm-slabs typically last between a few hours and few days (following snowfall). Storm-slabs that form over a persistent weak layer (surface hoar, depth hoar, or near-surface facets) may be termed Persistent Slabs or may develop into Persistent Slabs.

Likelihood of Avalanches
Terms such as "unlikely", "likely", and "certain" are used to define the scale, with the chance of triggering or observing avalanches increasing as we move up the scale. For our purposes, "Unlikely" means that few avalanches could be triggered in avalanche terrain and natural avalanches are not expected. "Certain" means that humans will be able to trigger avalanches on many slopes, and natural avalanches are expected.

Size of Avalanches
Avalanche size is defined by the largest potential avalanche, or expected range of sizes related to the problem in question. Assigned size is a qualitative estimate based on the destructive classification system and requires specialists to estimate the harm avalanches may cause to hypothetical objects located in the avalanche track (AAA 2016, CAA 2014). Under this schema, "Small" avalanches are not large enough to bury humans and are relatively harmless unless they carry people over cliffs or through trees or rocks. Moving up the scale, avalanches become "Large" enough to bury, injure, or kill people. "Very Large" avalanches may bury or destroy vehicles or houses, and "Historic" avalanches are massive events capable of altering the landscape.

Signal Word Size (D scale) Simple Descriptor
Small 1 Unlikely to bury a person
Large 2 Can bury a person
Very Large 3 Can destroy a house
Historic 4 & 5 Can destroy part or all of a village
More info at Avalanche.org

Triggering a storm slab in the top 1-3’ of snow is becoming less likely as we move away from the storm that ended Wednesday. Cold temps and benign weather is helping stabilize any mid-storm weaknesses within the new snow. Storm slabs may be lingering in the alpine, above 2500’, on steep to very steep terrain. This is an additional reason to avoid larger terrain and stay off of slopes steeper than 35 degrees. 

Additional Concern
  • Cornice
    Cornice
Cornice
Cornice Fall is the release of an overhanging mass of snow that forms as the wind moves snow over a sharp terrain feature, such as a ridge, and deposits snow on the downwind (leeward) side. Cornices range in size from small wind drifts of soft snow to large overhangs of hard snow that are 30 feet (10 meters) or taller. They can break off the terrain suddenly and pull back onto the ridge top and catch people by surprise even on the flat ground above the slope. Even small cornices can have enough mass to be destructive and deadly. Cornice Fall can entrain loose surface snow or trigger slab avalanches.
More info at Avalanche.org

Cornices have been growing over the last week and could be easy to trigger. Give these features a lot of space and remember they can break further back from a ridge than expected.  A cornice fall also has the potential to trigger a very large avalanche on the slope below.

Weather
Fri, January 19th, 2018

Yesterday skies were clear becoming partly cloudy in the afternoon. Temperatures were between 20-25F and winds were calm. No precipitation was recorded.  

Today skies will be overcast and valley fog and low lying clouds are also possible. Temperatures will be in the mid to low 20F’s and may drop into the teens overnight. Ridge top winds are expected to remain light and variable.  

Benign weather is expected tomorrow through the weekend with mostly overcast skies and a possibility of snow flurries.   Temperatures will be in the teens to low 20F’s and winds are expected to remain light through the weekend.  

**Seattle Ridge weather station stopped recording wind data 1/17/18 rime covering the anemometer.

PRECIPITATION 24-hour data (6am – 6am)

  Temp Avg (F) Snow (in) Water (in) Snow Depth (in)
Center Ridge (1880′) 23 0   0   56  
Summit Lake (1400′) 17 0   0   15  
Alyeska Mid (1700′) 26   0   0    43

RIDGETOP 24-hour data (6am – 6am)

  Temp Avg (F) Wind Dir Wind Avg (mph) Wind Gust (mph)
Sunburst (3812′) 20   variable   4   16  
Seattle Ridge (2400′) 23    *n/a  *n/a    *n/a  
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This is a general backcountry avalanche advisory issued for Turnagain Arm with Turnagain Pass as the core advisory area. This advisory does not apply to highways, railroads or operating ski areas.