Thursday, February 07, 2008

BOOM... Heavy snow, high avalanche, road closures

The snow continues to DUMP at Paradise and Longmire. The Paradise base just soared past 190 inches. That has people (NPS people to be specific) nervous about the road corridor (more on that below) and if you're a backcountry traveler, "heads up" to the avalanche report.

Snowpack: The snowfall over the past few days arrived with varied winds and temperatures. There seem to be a number of wind layers in the snowpack which could cause deeper instabilities in the short term. The "January crust" is very deep now, making it hard to understand the overall stability. All of this information is cause for concern.

Weather: The immediate avalanche threat is posed by the intense precipitation that continues to fall. The Weather Service is forecasting 1-1.5 inches of water equivalent on both Thursday and Friday. This translates to at least ten to fifteen inches of new snow. The front coming on Saturday is forecasted to be warmer, with freezing levels reaching 4,000 to possibly 5,000 feet.

Avalanche Hazard: The avalanche danger is rated HIGH below 7000 feet and will remain that way into Friday. The hazard will likely get worse on Saturday if the predicted warm weather and rain arrive.
Backcountry travel in avalanche terrain is not recommended at this time.

The Road to Paradise: All of this is predicated on the road to Paradise opening, which is unlikely for the time being. For the past two days it hasn't opened, it won't open on Friday, and there is a strong chance it won't open on Saturday and maybe even Sunday. Why? The primary concern revolves around the avalanche threat to the road corridor. So much snow has fallen and yet virtually none of it has released. Between Longmire and Paradise, there are a number of avalanche-prone gullies and slopes that threaten the road. The current plan is to bomb each of those slopes with 50 lbs. of ammonium nitrate! The blasting will begin tomorrow, then we'll see what the results are (BOOM!).

If you're stuck at Longmire, there is some reasonable tree skiing, but definitely wear your helmet. The snow remains soft under the tree canopy and less affected by wind. The lower slopes of the Eagle Peak trail are the likely place for such turns. Watch for the "tree bombs" as the temperature and winds increase, they can easily knock you out. Also remember to avoid tree wells.

As always, refer to NWAC for the latest conditions before heading out.

Chris Olson and Mike Gauthier