OverallAfter a short wave disturbance and cooler weather, natural and human triggered wet avalanche activity will be possible as warm weather returns by Tuesday, April 11th and later into the week.
At approximately noon on Wednesday, April 5th, a wet loose point release on a SE aspect in Humphrey's Cirque was triggered above treeline (see photo). With forecasted warming later in the work week, these wet avalanches may increase in probability.
New snow from last weeks storms have bonded well to lower layers. Note: dry slab avalanche debris was observed below the north aspects of North Core Ridge on 4/4/2017.
Near and Above TreelineCrampons and ice axes may increase security on steep hard snow and ice that may be encountered at high elevations - especially during cooler weather or cold mornings. Mixed conditions exist above treeline, ski with caution. Warm weather returns after the weekend, and human triggered wet-avalanches will become possible.
Below TreelineNatural and human triggered avalanches are unlikely other than small wet loose avalanches after warming. Unstable wet snow may develop on isolated terrain features.
Southerly and westerly aspects below 10,000' are quickly losing snow coverage as springtime warming continues. Rocks and logs are emerging just under the surface and may be hidden. As temperatures are still dropping below freezing, north, north east, and north west aspects are retaining snow coverage.
Warm temperatures return by midweek. Deep slush, snowballing, pinwheels, and small wet slides indicate the potential for larger wet loose avalanches or wet slab releases. Refer to the Agassiz Weather Station which is near treeline at 11,500' for temperature trends. If overnight temperatures do not drop below freezing then wet avalanche hazard will increase near treeline.
Quick warming after new snow can cause wet avalanches. Rain on snow can cause wet avalanches as well. Careful terrain choice relative to elevation and aspect, along with time of day will help in wet snow avalanche evaluation.
On Thursday, April 6th, collapsing and propagating wet slab layers were observed in flat meadows of the inner basin near 9800'. The slab was 1 to 2" thick and the collapsing sounded like a spray of wet corn snow. This phenomena could be explained by the following conditions; an interaction between diurnal temperature swings, water percolation, and/or the late March dirty snow layers (that become warmer due to lowered albedo; the reflective properties of snow). When temperatures warm back up, this phenomena could exacerbate wet slide instability.
Old storm and wind slabs resting on harder melt freeze crusts will also be suspect as the temperature warms.
Liquid water from snowmelt or rain-on-snow, moves through the layers of the snowpack at different rates. Wet Slab avalanches happen when a weak layer or interface becomes moist, wet, or saturated. The wet snow loses strength resulting in an avalanche.
Human triggered, wet loose release on SE aspect, April 5th at noon. Photo by Carlos Danel.
Travelers are advised to exercise caution, make slope specific evaluations, and most of all know where you are going and be prepared for the unexpected.
As always, please treat this summary with appropriately guarded skepticism, make your own assessments, and contribute to our body of knowledge by reporting your observations.
During winter, backcountry permits are required to access the Kachina Peaks Wilderness. More info
Last updated on Friday, April 7, 2017
Breezy and stormy conditions dominated the weather early last week with an accumulation of 13" of new snow recorded at Snowbowl (10,800'). These storm cycles were followed by average and below average temperatures. Temperature at the Agassiz Station (11,500') barely exceeded the freezing point and wind gusts in the 30s and 40s (mph) were recorded throughout the week. Temperatures have climbed, just ahead of another cold, low pressure system forecasted to arrive on Saturday afternoon and evening. Windy conditions will precede the storm developing on Friday out of the south and southwest. New precipitation is expected on Saturday evening and night. Accumulation of new snow this coming week is forecasted to be light at treeline followed by several days of cold temperatures and northerly winds. High pressure is forecasted to build, accompanied by a breezy and gradual warming trend later in the week.
The Inner Basin SNOTEL site (Snowslide) reported a snow depth of 59 inches (150 cm) at 9700'. Arizona Snowbowl reported 93 inches (236 cm) at 10800'. Since March 31st, SNOTEL temperatures ranged between 15° and 58° F. Agassiz station seems to have malfunctioned on April 3rd, with no new data.
Season snowfall to date is 326" (8.28 meters) at AZ Snowbowl, 10800'.
The avalanche problem/character describes part of the current avalanche danger. However because we only realease a summary once a week, the current avalanche problem will likely change.
Understanding avalanche problems is essential, because it allows you to determine your approach and strategies to risk treatment. Below are brief descriptions of avalanche problems/characters, and links to detailed information on the problem, formation, patterns, recognition, and avoidance strategies.
Avalanche Problems Explained Also see the North American Danger Scale.
Release of dry unconsolidated snow. These avalanches typically occur within layers of soft snow near the surface of the snowpack. Loose-dry avalanches start at a point and entrain snow as they move downhill, forming a fan-shaped avalanche. Other names for loose-dry avalanches include point-release avalanches or sluffs. Loose-dry avalanches can trigger slab avalanches that break into deeper snow layers.
Loose Dry avalanches are usually relatively harmless to people. They can be hazardous if you are caught and carried into or over a terrain trap (e.g. gully, rocks, dense timber, cliff, crevasse) or down a long slope. Avoid traveling in or above terrain traps when Loose Dry avalanches are likely.
Release of a soft cohesive layer (a slab) of new snow that breaks within the storm snow or on the old snow surface. Storm-slab problems typically last between a few hours and few days. 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.
You can reduce your risk from Storm Slabs by waiting a day or two after a storm before venturing into steep terrain. Storm slabs are most dangerous on slopes with terrain traps, such as timber, gullies, over cliffs, or terrain features that make it difficult for a rider to escape off the side.
Release of a cohesive layer of snow (a slab) formed by the wind.
Wind typically transports snow from the upwind sides of terrain features and deposits snow on the downwind side.
Wind slabs are often smooth and rounded and sometimes sound hollow, and can range from soft to hard.
Wind 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.
Wind Slabs form in specific areas, and are confined to lee and cross-loaded terrain features.
They can be avoided by sticking to sheltered or wind-scoured areas.
Release of a cohesive layer of soft to hard snow (a slab) in the middle to upper snowpack, when the bond to an underlying persistent weak layer breaks. Persistent layers include: surface hoar, depth hoar, near-surface facets, or faceted snow.
Persistent weak layers can continue to produce avalanches for days, weeks or even months, making them especially dangerous and tricky. As additional snow and wind events build a thicker slab on top of the persistent weak layer, this avalanche problem may develop into a Deep Persistent Slab.
The best ways to manage the risk from Persistent Slabs is to make conservative terrain choices.
They can be triggered by light loads and weeks after the last storm.
The slabs often propagate in surprising and unpredictable ways.
This makes this problem difficult to predict and manage and requires a wide safety buffer to handle the uncertainty.
Deep Persistent Slab
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 or near the ground.
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.
They commonly develop when Persistent Slabs become more deeply buried over time.
Deep Persistent Slabs are destructive and deadly events that can take months to stabilize.
You can trigger them from well down in the avalanche path, and after dozens of tracks have crossed the slope.
Release of wet unconsolidated snow or slush. These avalanches typically occur within layers of wet snow near the surface of the snowpack, but they may quickly gouge into lower snowpack layers.
Like Loose Dry Avalanches, they start at a point and entrain snow as they move downhill, forming a fan-shaped avalanche. They generally move slowly, but can contain enough mass to cause significant damage to trees, cars or buildings. Other names for loose-wet avalanches include point-release avalanches or sluffs. Loose Wet avalanches can trigger slab avalanches that break into deeper snow layers.
Travel when the snow surface is colder and stronger. Plan your trips to avoid crossing on or under very steep slopes in the afternoon. Move to colder, shadier slopes once the snow surface turns slushly. Avoid steep, sunlit slopes above terrain traps, cliffs areas and long sustained steep pitches.
Release of a cohesive layer of snow (a slab) that is generally moist or wet when the flow of liquid water weakens the bond between the slab and the surface below (snow or ground). They often occur during prolonged warming events and/or rain-on-snow events. Wet Slabs can be very destructive.
Avoid terrain where and when you suspect Wet Slab avalanche activity. Give yourself a wide safety buffer to handle the uncertainty.
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 lips 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.
Cornices can never be trusted and avoiding them is necessary for safe backcountry travel. Stay well back from ridge line areas with cornices. They often overhang the ridge edge can be triggered remotely. Avoid areas underneath cornices. Even small Cornice Fall can trigger a larger avalanche and large Cornice Fall can easily crush a human. Periods of significant temperature warm-up are times to be particularly aware.
Release of the entire snow cover as a result of gliding over the ground. Glide avalanches can be composed of wet, moist, or almost entirely dry snow. They typically occur in very specific paths, where the slope is steep enough and the ground surface is relatively smooth. The are often proceeded by full depth cracks (glide cracks), though the time between the appearance of a crack and an avalanche can vary between seconds and months. Glide avalanches are unlikely to be triggered by a person, are nearly impossible to forecast, and thus pose a hazard that is extremely difficult to manage.
Predicting the release of Glide Avalanches is very challenging. Because Glide Avalanches only occur on very specific slopes, safe travel relies on identifying and avoiding those slopes. Glide cracks are a significant indicator, as are recent Glide Avalanches.
Snowpack Summary Disclaimer
The summaries on this site were written by Kachina Peaks Avalanche Center Board Members. They are based on a broad spectrum of data collected from weather stations, National Weather Service point forecasts and field observation by qualified individuals.
The summaries are not intended to substitute for good knowledge and decision making skills in avalanche terrain. If you have any doubt of stable conditions, please stay away from avalanche terrain. You can usually find good places to go that are not prone to avalanches, such as on low angle slopes away from avalanche run-out zones. If you have any questions about where to find such places, you should consider further avalanche educational opportunities, such as those listed on our education page.
Snowpack Summary – Format and Limitations Statement
Starting in 2012 Kachina Peaks Avalanche Center (KPAC) has publish a weekly Snowpack Summary on our website.
These summaries are currently issued on Friday afternoons. On occasion, we will give storm updates or warnings of rapidly increasing avalanche hazard at more frequent intervals.
Our objective is to reach weekend recreationist, informing this user group of prevailing conditions, but particularly warning of avalanche hazards whenever they are present.
Many people have asked us why we use the format we do, but do not include a danger rating or a hazard/stability rose as many other avalanche centers do around the west.
The National Avalanche Center (NAC) advises small operations like KPAC, who do not issue daily bulletins to not use danger ratings in our snowpack summaries due to the regular but intermittent nature of their field observations and the length of time between issuance of snowpack summaries.
A primary concern is for how conditions can change in the time between publications, potentially giving the public misleading information. At this point, we simply do not have resources to monitor the snowpack at the level necessary to accurately produce more frequent bulletins.
While we understand the benefits of a danger rating using the North American Danger Scale, we also feel that our format encourages people to dig in a little deeper, and spend some time reading what our forecasters are saying. Although the area that we forecast is relatively small, the variability has proven quite large.
Inner Basin conditions are often surprisingly different from those on the more wind-affected western side on the Peaks.
We hope the information that we provide in summaries helps give you a good overview of what is going on out there, and what avalanche problems you should be attentive to, but if there is any uncertainty, then we encourage you to ask questions via Facebook or email@example.com.