We’re feeling the love here in Silverton and Cupid has been shredding his wings off this week! It’s an exciting time of year as days grow longer, temperatures rise, the snowpack stabilizes, and backcountry travelers become smitten with the arrival of Spring.
As of Saturday, February 15th the Avalanche Danger in both the North and South San Juans is Low, Level One at all elevations and on all aspects. The CAIC continues to note a lingering Persistent Slab problem on East and Southeast slopes Near and Above Tree Line. Faculty field observations continue to find this problem quickly disappearing/ muted on most slopes.
Moderate winds on Thursday were able to transport what little fresh snow we received this week and observers noted drifting along ridgetops and the formation of isolated wind slabs. These slabs have been small and slow to react under a rider’s influence.
As we heat up this holiday weekend, be on the lookout for surface clues indicating rapid warming. “Rollerballs and small sluffs out of steep, rocky terrain are usually harmless unless they knock you off your feet or you’re caught off guard in a depression, gully, or terrain trap.”
Our next dollop of precip drops Sunday night and we expect the Avalanche Danger to rise with the arrival of that next weather event. Until then, enjoy the ample sun and brilliant conditions found throughout the range.
Speaking of the weather, did you notice things have been a little “off” lately.
Weather forecasts are estimations of what we expect to happen at the interface of the Earth and Atmosphere. Sometimes the forecast is spot on. Other times, it leaves us guessing, wondering, or criticizing. Predicting the weather is a challenging endeavor, and for the most part, we’ve gotten pretty good at it. Nonetheless, in the last ten days, the San Juans have received two “off” weather forecasts.
The first one, overproducing cold white powder in the Northern Zone and the second, going from a predicted twelve inches to presenting clear, sunny skies.
Why did this happen?
Well the first “off” forecast was associated with an atmospheric river event which brought significant snowfall (and avalanche hazard) from British Columbia to New Mexico. This “off” event dropped a beautiful 18.7 inches at Swamp Angel Study Plot with 1.8 inches of snow water equivalency. The second “off” event was expected to drop over a foot of new snow in favored locales but left much to be desired; with no new snow at Swamp Angel and delivering about 5 inches in the Southern SJ Zone.
Upon reflection, the supercomputing power of the National Weather Service was a bit “off” for these recent events. But let’s not be to hard on the forecasters, they have a challenging job to do. Remember, the forecast is different than the nowcast. We can do our best to estimate conditions, but we must get out there and observe reality. If the weather forecast is wrong, the avalanche forecast, and danger rating will be impacted. When the forecast is “off” field truthing weather conditions on the ground is a must!
If you don’t make it out to see conditions for yourself, be sure to track weather and storm events remotely. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center has an excellent list of weather stations, and Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies produces informative Storm Reports for every precip event producing 12mm or more of water.
Subscribe to the CSAS Storm Reports by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or visiting https://snowstudies.org/winter-storm-data/
CAIC Weather Stations can be found at https://avalanche.state.co.us/observations/weather-stations/
And don’t forget to check in daily with two of our favorite, Colorado based snow geeks:
Joel Gratz at Open Snow
Jeff Givens at Durango Weather Guy
As we jump deeper into late winter and carve a sharp turn towards spring, do not become complacent in the backcountry!
Be on the look-out for red-flags and rapidly changing conditions. The CAIC released a somber and timely reminder for this President’s Day Weekend:
Over the last 10 winters in Colorado, six avalanche accidents killed people around President’s Day weekend.
Avalanches also caught numerous people: most dramatically, 20 people over the 2013 President's Day weekend and 10 people over the 2014 weekend.
Wow, that’s a stark reminder to not let our guard down! Stay sweet and safe as you’re feeling the love out there this weekend. Send observations into the CAIC and keep tracking those forecasts.
We’re looking forward to some changes to the pattern next week and we’ll have more to update you on following our next series of storms. Much love to all you shred heads and snow hounds- keep the hairy side up, waxy side down & stay stellar out there!
The Stellar is a collaboration between Silverton Avalanche School and the Friends of the San Juans. These periodic communications are designed to be an educational resource for FOSJ members and are not intended to supplant avalanche bulletins, danger ratings and one’s own personal responsibility for backcountry travel choices and decision making. Silverton Avalanche School encourages all of FOSJ’s members to join us for additional snow and safety trainings. Learn More at avyschool.org or Contact Us at email@example.com