Saturday, March 12, 2016

Endless Winter

March 12th

Winter has made a strong come back the past few days at Mount Rainier National Park. The series of frontal systems impacting the area are forecast to continue for the next several days as well, leaving up to 2 feet of snow in the Paradise area by Monday! It is not time to put away the skis or snowboards just yet!

Snow Profile results from Alta Vista 3-12-16
With all that new snow comes excellent skiing conditions, as well as the threat of avalanches and getting disoriented above the tree line in wintery conditions. Climbing Rangers were out and about today assessing conditions and digging a test profile to see what was happening in the snow pack. For those of you who follow the Northwest Avalanche Center, it was nothing that the forecasters have not been saying for several days now. The profile revealed a series of crusts, interspersed with melt forms and rounded grains. This comes as a result of various warmer periods and rain events, along with a few colder snow events. The one thing of note in the profile, was a strong crust approximately 16 cm below the surface. This surface was quite hard (knife hardness for you avalanche aficionados out there), and the snow on top of it was quite soft. The good news is that the current storm came in with cold temperatures, and the snow fall started gradually. Tests showed very little re-activity, and the fluffy and cold surface snow simply sluffed off, stopping quickly and did not entrain deeper snow.

All of that said, the forecast for the next several days includes a winter weather advisory, with significant snowfall amounts and moderate winds. What does all of this mean? Well, tomorrow, Sunday the 13th, the avalanche danger rating is moving to high for the near and above tree line zones. A high avalanche danger day means that natural avalanches are likely, and human triggered avalanches are very likely. Much of the problem over the coming days will likely be storm slab avalanches and wind slab avalanches on aspects that are leeward to the prevailing wind direction. All of this information may seem like a bit of "doom and gloom", but fear not, good skiing and snow shoeing can be had even on high avalanche danger days with proper terrain selection and careful travel.

So pack those winter clothes, map/compass/gps, skis or board as well as your avalanche rescue gear and come on up for some winter fun while it lasts! Spring is just around the corner, and soon will be the days where we are all dreaming of powder skiing. So come take advantage of this seemingly endless winter here at Mt. Rainier!