The first week of February brought a 50 degree temperature range on the Kachina Peaks along with variable winds. Earlier in the week southwest winds were followed by stronger northeast wind and colder temperatures on Feb 5-6. After days of sunny weather and warmer temperatures, several melt freeze crusts have developed on all aspects with varying degrees of thickness and hardness.
Overall, the snowpack is demonstrating a complex structure, moderate to good strength, and low reactivity. New precipitation, wind loading, and near surface facet growth could alter this equation to higher instability with a storm forecast for Monday.
Wet avalanche activity remains a possibility this weekend, with high temperatures forecast, particularly on southerly aspects. There was one report of a relatively small skier triggered wet slough in the Humphrey's Cirque on Saturday, February 1 (see photo below).
While some older weak layers have been showing evidence of bonding with prolonged warmer temperatures, the possibility for near surface faceting remains with newly formed crusts as colder temperatures return to northern Arizona. Pay particular attention to the temperature profile as a large temperature gradient over a short distance can signify weak facet layer formation and progressive instability. This could become particularly relevant if new snow falls as forecast for the week of February 10.
The last slab avalanches noted on the Kachina Peaks were during and after the Christmas 2019 storm cycle.
However, this weekend presents a great opportunity to observe the snow surface and snowpack in detail before next week's forecast snow. Watch for wet slides if temperatures are high and observe the snow surface and structure carefully before the upcoming storm. Yesterday's snow surface can become tomorrow's weak layer or bed surface.
Sloughing from any new snow this next week is possible on firm frozen surfaces. If more significant amounts of snow were to fall this week, 8 inches or more with wind, there is potential for current near surface facets become a significant weak layer under storm slab and wind slab. Pay attention to this week's weather.
Near and Above TreelineModerate wind, out of the southwest shifting to the northeast in the last week, has stripped some aspects above treeline while rendering others wind loaded. Always be cautious of wind slab formation on steep, leeward slopes. Observe for local signs of wind stripping and subsequent loading on leeward aspects wherever you travel above treeline. Ice axe and crampons are strongly recommended as surface conditions can be very firm depending on the time of day and temperature. Be prepared. Where wind has not scoured snow, depths remain at 1-2 meters.
Below TreelineHigh daytime temperatures could contribute to decreased stability on sunny slopes over the weekend. With a decrease in elevation comes a decrease in snow depth. Obstacles become the main hazard below 9000 ft but are present on all aspects at all elevations. Expect the unexpected. As snow falls throughout the week many of these obstacles may become covered but still be hazardous. Ski and snowboard with care after new snow.
When daytime temperatures warm, stability on sunny aspects may deteriorate. Observe carefully and remember that timing is important. Loose wet avalanches generally become more likely as the day goes on. One relatively small wet slough, pictured below, was reported on Saturday Feb 1. Manage terrain and tour plans according to weather.
Approach high elevation, leeward ridge lines with caution. Leeward sides of gullies and spurs may hold pockets of cross-loaded unstable wind slab. Beware of wind drifts in steep terrain. Hard slabs are most prone to human triggering where they are thin/weak, and therefore, more susceptible to failure under a person's weight.
Wet slough reported from Feb 1, Humphrey's Cirque. Photo: Alicia Leggett
Pit from Dutchman on February 1. Note large temperature gradient near surface. Credit: Troy Marino
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A wonderfully warm Groundhog Day weekend was replaced by a cold trough passing to our north. Originally predicted to deliver at least a few inches of new snow, we received only bone-chilling winds out of the southwest and the coldest temperatures of the winter. High temperatures in the low teens and sub 0° F lows were recorded at treeline. Windchill temperatures at ASBTP (11,555’) dropped into -20s Fahrenheit.
Windy and frigid conditions were followed by warming to above average temperatures on Thursday, with generally fair and intermittent breezy weather forecasted through the weekend. We have been experiencing a persistent dry pattern with occasional mid-latitude short wave troughs to the north.
Our next chance for precipitation, and a possible pattern shift will arrive early in the workweek, hopefully as a significant winter storm. Interactions between a cutoff low pressure system, the arctic, and the sub-tropical jet streams may draw in sufficient mid-level moisture to support significant high elevation snowfall. We are looking at this complex interaction of meteorological elements with guarded optimism. Let’s keep our collective fingers crossed. Unsettled weather will characterize much of the upcoming week.
Arizona Snowbowl reported a 52” (132cm) base at 10,800 feet. Snowslide SNOTEL reports a 44” (112cm) snow depth. So far this winter, we have had 145” (368 cm) of snowfall at 10,800 feet.
Since January 21st, SNOTEL temperatures have ranged between -7° F on February 4th and 50° F on February 2nd. ASBTP station (11,555 ft) reported a low of -5° F on February 4th and a high of 47° F on February 1st.
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.
Large cornices are generally rare in Arizona, but they have been observed during very snowy winters.
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.
Glide avalanches are very uncommon in Arizona.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.