Avalanche Warnings Shift With Spring Storms
Recent Snow Shifts Conditions in SLV
Snowfall started early this morning and 1 to 2 inches have accumulated so far in the western side of the San Juan Mountains. Snowfall picks up during the day and blankets the region. Additional accumulations of 4 to 7 inches are possible by Sunday morning. Winds forecast to remain light in the region, but micro-terrain features could drive slightly higher wind speeds. Areas where winds approach 20 miles per hour or faster could see broader slab formation in the storm snow. Otherwise, we anticipate deepest and more concerning drifts isolated to below ridges and in cross-loaded terrain features, or on the backside of convexities.
Without strong winds driving widespread Wind Slab formation, new snow amounts do not appear deep enough to raise the avalanche danger throughout the region. Steeper slopes in areas that exceed the upper end of snowfall totals may reach low-end MODERATE (2of5) danger. CAIC forecasters Friday reported good bonding at the new/ old snow interface and right-side-up storm snow that fell Thursday night and earlier in the week. We anticipate similar good bonding with today’s snowfall. Regardless of the perceived notion that wind-deposited slabs will be small and manageable, approach slopes over 35 degrees with caution if you encounter new snow amounts or drifts that exceed 10 inches.
Over the years, many backcountry travelers got caught off guard when accidentally triggering a small pocket of wind-drifted snow and getting swept down the mountain. This is a good reminder to stay diligent with your snowpack assessments even at LOW (1of5) danger. In addition, be wary of triggering a Loose Dry avalanche in steep, rocky terrain. You are more likely to trigger a fast-moving sluff where the new snow fell onto a firm old snow surface or crust. If snowfall turns squally and we see breaks in the clouds, the new snow could easily sluff downhill from the strong sun making the new snow moist and unconsolidated. Avoid traveling above cliffs or consequential terrain if you observe fresh rollerballs or pinwheels.
Large, sagging cornices dot the landscape. As you travel along ridgetops, give these beasts a wide berth, as they often break further back onto flatter terrain than you might expect. Recently, the forecast staff has observed cornices pulling away from the rock and creating motes. Although we have few reports of cornice failures, they are unpredictable and can cave off during peak daytime heating. Worst-case scenario, large cornice failure can trigger a larger, deeper avalanche where weak snow lingers near the ground.
Statewide CAIC Overview
Issued: Sat, Apr 17, 2021 at 6:33 AM for the Sangre de Cristo Range
Avalanche conditions are generally safe but you can still trigger small avalanches in extreme terrain. Small avalanches in very steep terrain can lead to serious consequences. If you choose to ride or hike in this type of terrain, you will need to watch out for a few things. Any uptick in winds can result in drifting snow and small slabs forming near ridgetop. Watch for shooting cracks in any drifted snow and be wary of a hollow sounding upper snowpack or thick, firm slabs over softer layers. In areas with no wind, be conscious of unconsolidated loose, dry snow that can sluff in very steep terrain.
About the CAIC
The Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) is a program within the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, Executive Director’s Office. The program is a partnership between the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Department of Transportation (CDOT), and the Friends of the CAIC (FoCAIC) a 501c3 group. The mission of the CAIC is to provide avalanche information, education, and promote research for the protection of life, property, and the enhancement of the state’s economy.
The History of CAIC
Since 1950 avalanches have killed more people in Colorado than any other natural hazard, and in the United States, Colorado accounts for one-third of all avalanche deaths. The Colorado Avalanche Warning Center began issuing public avalanche forecasts in 1973 as part of a research program in the USDA-Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station. The program moved out of the federal government and into the Colorado state government, becoming part of the Department of Natural Resources in 1983. The CAIC joined the Colorado Department of Transportation’s highway safety program in 1993. The Friends of the CAIC (a 501c3 group) formed in 2007 to promote avalanche safety in Colorado and support the recreation program of the CAIC.
Funding for CAIC: How To Donate
About half of the CAIC’s funding comes from an intergovernmental agreement with CDOT to provide training and forecasting for highway maintenance operations. As part of the Department of Natural Resources, close to 40% of the Center’s funding comes from the Severance Tax Fund. The rest of the funding to run the program comes from the United States Forest Service, local governments, the Friends of the CAIC, and donations from people like you. CLICK HERE to Donate.