General Bulletin for Saturday, January 16, 2016

A new General Bulletin will be issued if conditions warrant or within 72 hours of this release. General Bulletins are issued when isolated areas of unstable snow may exist within the forecast areas. Forecasts using the 5-scale danger rating system will begin when snowfields and bed surfaces become more developed. Please remember that avalanche activity may occur before the issuance of a 5-scale danger rating forecast. As always, make your own snow stability assessments when traveling in avalanche terrain.

Over the past week we have received 12.6″ (31cm) of new snow with high W winds.  This has increased the size of our isolated bed surfaces in prelude to this weekend’s weather maker. 4-8″ (10-20cm) of new snow is expected today (Saturday) with a light to moderate wind, shifting from the SE to the SW, eventually coming from the W late in the day. Overnight, winds will grow to hurricane force which should ramp up loading into our east facing Ravines.  This will be exacerbated by an additional two inches of snow. Anticipate increasing isolated instabilities to develop through the weekend.

Across the entire forecast area, the potential bed surfaces are still limited and isolated, though they are certainly going to be growing with this weekend precipitation event.   The largest of these snowfields can be found in Left Gully, the Chute, and in the Lip region of Tuckerman. In Huntington, Central Gully holds the largest snowfields, but others exist in various locations, such the base of Pinnacle and Odell gullies. Don’t let the lack of a danger rating lull you into complacency. Traveling through small snowfields can put you into or underneath unstable snow, and all of these pockets are going to be subjected to additional load over the next few days.   This situation is a very typical scenario we go through each season as snowfield continuity and larger bedsurfaces push us closer to a daily 5 scale danger rating forecast.  The only atypical thing this year is how late into the season this is occurring.  Isolated areas may harbor snow instabilities, but they are only a small overall percentage of our forecast area.  Many of you may be searching for these handful of locations to pursue your sport rather than the brush and rock that dominate the Ravines.  If this is you, expect instability until proven otherwise by your stability assessments.  There may also be a small number of you that plan on trying to follow the Tuckerman and Huntington summer trails through each Ravine.  This is not a good idea as they both run through some snowfields that harbor potential hazards.  Save the summer trails for summer.  Finally, recognize this holiday weekend will have many others out and about that could be potential triggers above you. Mount Washington can be a busy place.

  • Safe travel in avalanche terrain requires training and experience. This bulletin is just one tool to help you make your own decisions in avalanche terrain. You control your own risk by choosing where, when, and how you travel.
  • Anticipate a changing avalanche danger when actual weather differs from the higher summits forecast.
  • For more information contact the Forest Service Snow Rangers, the AMC at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, or the caretakers at Hermit Lake Shelters or the Harvard Cabin. Bulletin posted at 645am, Saturday, January 16, 2016.

Christopher Joosen, Snow Ranger
USDA Forest Service
White Mountain National Forest
(603) 466-2713 TTY (603) 466-2856

2016-01-16 General

General Bulletin for Thursday, January 14, 2016

A new General Bulletin will be issued if conditions warrant or within 72 hours of this release. General Bulletins are issued when isolated areas of unstable snow may exist within the forecast areas. Forecasts using the 5-scale danger rating system will begin when snowfields and bed surfaces become more developed. Please remember that avalanche activity may occur before the issuance of a 5-scale danger rating forecast. As always, make your own snow stability assessments when traveling in avalanche terrain.

Fast moving upper level low pressure “clipper systems” will dominate the prevailing weather conditions for the next few days providing a smorgasbord of conditions for mountain travelers to handle. Though the cold and wind challenges encountered on Mount Washington are well known, they have been slow to arrive this season. Warm temperatures and copious rain last weekend leveled our paltry snowpack which was composed or 20” of snow that had fallen so far this month. The rain and runoff beat up existing ice climbs and left a lean base for Tuesday’s and early Wednesday’s 8” snowstorm.

Our current weather pattern feels much more like a normal winter pattern though our snowpack is far from normal. The next few days will bring unsettled weather and enough moisture to drop a 2 or 3” of snow each day. This upslope snow will continue to grow existing small snowfields and create the potential for unstable albeit isolated, slabs. Wind speeds will be favorable for creating wind slabs as well, so use caution when approaching steep snow fields. Our terrain has a history of turning small scale snow events into a subtle, yet dangerous, avalanche problem that can catch the unwary off guard. Even a small avalanche can knock you off of your feet while the existing icy bed surface will make self-arrest challenging if not impossible on a steep slope.

The latest forecast has tempered, if not dashed, snow-lovers hopes for a major storm on Friday night and Saturday’s storm but it is likely that the mountain will receive some amount of precipitation. At this point, it seems as if it will be of a higher density frozen variety but it is still a little early for model run accuracy. Wind and reduced visibility will challenge summit bound climbers on Saturday so be sure to keep tabs on the storm track. We will more than likely put out another general bulletin on Saturday morning when we know more details about this weather maker. The cloud cap shrouding the Rockpile over the next few days will be changing the landscape and edging us closer to a winter snowpack which matches the winter weather.

  • Safe travel in avalanche terrain requires training and experience. This bulletin is just one tool to help you make your own decisions in avalanche terrain. You control your own risk by choosing where, when, and how you travel.
  • Anticipate a changing avalanche danger when actual weather differs from the higher summits forecast.
  • For more information contact the Forest Service Snow Rangers, the AMC at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, or the caretakers at Hermit Lake Shelters or the Harvard Cabin. Bulletin posted at 10:00am, Thursday, January 14, 2016.

Frank Carus, Snow Ranger
USDA Forest Service
White Mountain National Forest
(603) 466-2713 TTY (603) 466-2856

2016-01-14 General

Storm Thoughts – January 13, 2016

Snowfall totals as of 8:00am, January 13:

  • Pinkham Notch 7-8″
  • Hermit Lake 7.5″
  • Mt. Washington Summit 6.1″

For more locations, the NWS publishes a public information statement spotter report or take a look at CoCoRaHS. I had a little more than 5″ at my home in Conway this morning.

It’s been a lackluster start to the winter of 2015-2016, but last night’s snowfall certainly was good to brighten one’s spirits. Tuckerman and Huntington Ravines are currently posted under a General Bulletin and will likely remain this way at least for now. As long as I’ve been working here, I can’t remember a season that has started off so slowly. We’ve had our share of late starts and early winter rain and thaw events, but this had been remarkable.

As you can see in the photo, Tuckerman’s headwall had very little snow on it before the latest rain. Look closely and you might see a very small crown line in the Chute. This is the type of problem that can often be found even when we are posting only a General Bulletin – it’s a relatively small and isolated patch of snow compared to the hazards presented by the Chute with better coverage. In these conditions, you might find several patches of unstable snow if you go looking hard enough, but it’s not enough to warrant going into full avalanche forecasting operations.

Left side of Tuckerman, January 8, 2016

Left side of Tuckerman, January 8, 2016

This photo was taken on Friday, January 8. Two days later, Sunday, we got hit with a warm rain event with 1.4″ of melted precipitation and summit temperatures topping out at 35F. Needless to say, this impacted the already thin snowpack, leaving behind two ravines very hungry for snow.

Temperatures on Mt. Washington over the last week. Note the spike on Jan 10.

Temperatures on Mt. Washington over the last week. Note the spike on Jan 10. (Graph from NWS)

So what effect will this recent snowfall have? It’s certainly going to help, but given the prior snow deficit in the ravines, I think the overall effect on filling in the snowfields around the mountain will be minimal. Having said that, on a smaller scale there will be noticeable changes. It’s hard to ignore the forecast for increasing W and NW winds gusting over 100mph later today and tonight. These speeds will be effective in picking up any available snow from windward sides of the mountain and redistributing it into leeward sides.

If a more well-established base of snow existed in the ravines, with larger potential bed surfaces, this storm coupled with the wind forecast would pretty easily put us into Considerable or High avalanche danger. In fact, I could see this producing a pretty good natural avalanche cycle with multiple paths running. But the fact is that we are still establishing a base in the ravines, which changes the equation significantly and leads to a broad scale General Bulletin.

However, it’s important that we don’t fall into the trap of looking only at the big picture of this winter. Small snowfields can avalanche, regardless of whether we’re fully forecasting, under a General Bulletin, or even before the Snow Rangers start paying any attention at all. If I were looking to get out and recreate in these conditions, I’d be very suspicious of any areas of wind slab, no matter the size. I’d be thinking carefully about the consequences of a fall, knowing that even a very small avalanche can take me off my feet. It doesn’t matter if there isn’t enough snow to bury someone, what matters more right now is the bigger question of “what happens if…?”

I hope this doesn’t sound as if we’re talking out of both sides of our mouths. The fact is, we have conditions today that should be raising several red flags. Don’t be lulled into complacency by the overall lack of snow or the lack of an Avalanche Advisory. There is a lot of terrain you can cover in the mountains today and tomorrow that is not exposed to avalanche hazard (although with the weather and visibility, you’d do well to consider all available options), but it’s up to you to figure out where those locations are. We’ll be keeping tabs on conditions, and will begin forecasting as the snowfields grow larger and more capable of producing avalanches.

With a little help from Mother Nature, it might only be another couple storms like this and we’ll start to see the ravines looking more and more like their usual selves.

If you’re wondering about conditions on the Sherburne, the short answer is that I don’t yet know, but I can make some informed guesses:

  1. Let’s just be honest, for the better part of the past decade, the ski trail hasn’t seen the level of maintenance it needs. Fir growth in the upper third of the trail is pretty significant, meaning that until a deeper base is formed, the skiable track is only as wide as an ATV. Coincidentally, this is just about the same width as my snowboard. I found it very easy to catch a tip last week in the fir trees up high. (Contact us if you have a desire to help with this trail next summer.)
  2. While the trail was wet from Sunday’s thaw, someone apparently walked on the trail. These slushy footprints are now frozen into the base of the trail. (If you’re reading this and it was you…shame, shame on you!)
  3. The base was very thin and very hard prior to the rain, with many exposed rocks, sticks, and other hazards. The base now has much more water ice or icy snow, and more rocks exposed. Now we have 7-8″ of light density snow sitting on top of the ice. In many locations this will have been wiped clean by the wind. In a few locations you might be lucky enough to find a little drift.

Think snow!

Jeff Lane, Snow Ranger
Mount Washington Avalanche Center

 

General Bulletin for Monday, January 11, 2016

 

A new General Bulletin will be issued if conditions warrant or within 72 hours of this release. General Bulletins are issued when isolated areas of unstable snow may exist within the forecast areas. Forecasts using the 5-scale danger rating system will begin when snowfields and bed surfaces become more developed. Please remember that avalanche activity may occur before the issuance of a 5-scale danger rating forecast. As always, make your own snow stability assessments when traveling in avalanche terrain.

The ravines took a hit yesterday from the precipitation that fell around the region. The summit reported 1.4 inches of liquid on Sunday.  What little snow was in the ravines was completely saturated and is now well on its way to becoming a skating rink.  Temperatures plummeted since yesterday, with the summit dropping toward 0 degrees Fahrenheit as of Monday morning.  Expect all snow fields to be harder than concrete and rocks to be glazed with a layer of ice.  The largest snow fields are in Left Gully, the Chute, and Central Gully in Huntington.  Long sliding falls are a distinct possibility in any of these places, including the snowfield below the first pitch of Pinnacle.  Despite relatively small snowfields, it will be easy for any object to reach terminal velocity quickly and then ricochet through all the uncovered rocks abounding the ravines. Ice climbers can expect to find ice dams, and hollow and undermined ice in places with running water creating lots of potential for frozen ropes until the arctic lockup settles in.

The weather for the upcoming days looks to be a true dose of Mount Washington winter. Upslope snow showers will bring up to a few inches to the summits today.  This snow, combined with steady hurricane force winds and temperatures dropping below zero will make mountain travel difficult.  Winter weather will likely continue through Wednesday, with the possibility for several inches of snow Tuesday afternoon into Wednesday morning.  With the icy surface left that developed due to Sunday’s rain and the wind loading that will occur over the next 72 hours, expect snow fields to grow and develop potentially reactive wind slabs. Higher wind velocities such as those that are forecast tend to build wind slabs lower in our terrain….precisely where the largest of our small snowfields currently reside. Even small avalanches can have grim consequences given the icy bed surface and rocks. Remember: if a snowfield is large enough to recreate on, it’s large enough to avalanche.

  • Safe travel in avalanche terrain requires training and experience. This bulletin is just one tool to help you make your own decisions in avalanche terrain. You control your own risk by choosing where, when, and how you travel.
  • Anticipate a changing avalanche danger when actual weather differs from the higher summits forecast.
  • For more information contact the Forest Service Snow Rangers, the AMC at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, or the caretakers at Hermit Lake Shelters or the Harvard Cabin. Bulletin posted at 7:25am January 11, 2016.

 

Helon Hoffer/ Frank Carus, Snow Rangers
USDA Forest Service
White Mountain National Forest
(603) 466-2713 TTY (603) 466-2856

2016-01-11 GENERAL2

Tonight – Reel Rock 10 – Mountain Rescue Service fundraiser

Mountain Rescue Service is one of the critical volunteer organizations on whom Mount Washington Avalanche Center and the local community relies on for technical and extreme weather SAR missions. Like most rescue organizations nationwide, unpaid MRS members rely on donations for equipment, medical training expenses, etc. If you are a climber, or even if you aren’t, and you’re looking for something to do tonight, you can simultaneously help out this organization and keep the fires of your climbing stoke burning by attending the show, upstairs at International Mountain Equipment in North Conway, NH. See below for more details:
The year’s best new films from the vertical edge, featuring Alex Honnold & Tommy Caldwell climbing the Fritzroy Traverse in “A Line Across The Sky”. Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson’s epic final push to free climb the Dawn Wall. Daniel Wood’s battle to conquer fear and climb the high ball test-piece The Process. Showdown at Horsetooth Hell and a special tribute to the late Dean Potter. 
Check out the official trailer here

Silent auction and raffle prizes provided by Black Diamond, Julbo, Hyperlite Mountain Gear, Petzl & Adventure Medical Kits. Beer is being provided free by Tuckerman Brewing Company. Yes, we said FREE BEER!


Saturday January 9th doors open at 6 PM. Show starts at 7 PM. Tickets cost $10.
Hope to see you there!
-Frank

General Bulletin for Tuckerman and Huntington Ravines

This is the initial GENERAL AVALANCHE  BULLETIN for the 2015-2016 season.  A new General Bulletin will be issued if conditions warrant or within 72 hours of this release. General Bulletins are issued when isolated areas of unstable snow may exist within the forecast areas. Forecasts using the 5-scale danger rating system will begin when snowfields and bed surfaces become more developed. Please remember that avalanche activity may occur before the issuance of a 5-scale danger rating forecast. As always, make your own snow stability assessments when traveling in avalanche terrain.

The largest snowfields, and future bed surfaces, can currently be found in Left Gully, the Chute, and Central Gully in Huntington. Other smaller snowfields can also be found in various locations throughout both ravines.  These patches, such as those between ice bulges across the Tuckerman Headwall, can be problematic because of the typical concentration of climbers.  Be wary climbing under other parties.  In Huntington, problems for climbers are often in the snowfields below the first pitch of ice on routes such as Central, Pinnacle and Odell. Central is currently by far the largest of these snowfields. Keep this in mind and don’t underestimate even smaller patches of snow on your chosen ice climbing route.  If a snowfield is big enough to recreate on, it’s big enough to avalanche.

The high pressure will move out of the region today (Friday) bringing in precipitation during the overnight, Saturday, and Sunday. The mountains will initially see light snow, but should intermix with sleet on Saturday as we increase in temperatures.  Sunday will clearly bring rain to the valleys which will also threaten the Ravine levels.  The freeze line elevations should be just above the 5000ft level as the alpine zone crawls towards the low thirties.  We’ll see how it all plays out over the next 3 days. However expect the potential for several inches of snow and sleet for the weekend, maybe ending in rain.  Some the smaller thin pockets sitting on ice, like several of the benches on the Tuckerman Headwall, will be most affected if we do get appreciable rain amounts.  Watch our Summit Observatory friends at www.mountwashington.org for daily alpine forecasts before heading into the mountains.

  • Safe travel in avalanche terrain requires training and experience. This bulletin is just one tool to help you make your own decisions in avalanche terrain. You control your own risk by choosing where, when, and how you travel.
  • Anticipate a changing avalanche danger when actual weather differs from the higher summits forecast.
  • For more information contact the Forest Service Snow Rangers, the AMC at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, or the caretakers at Hermit Lake Shelters or the Harvard Cabin. Bulletin posted at 6:44am, Jan 8th, 2016

Christopher Joosen, Snow Ranger
USDA Forest Service
White Mountain National Forest
(603) 466-2713 TTY (603) 466-2856

2016-01-08 GENERAL1

 

Early Winter Information – January 3, 2016

This is an updated early winter informational statement. We’ll continue to monitor conditions closely and will issue a General Bulletin or Avalanche Advisory when the likelihood and consequence of avalanches increase.

Winter continues to spool up and the mountains are becoming whiter and colder everyday. Since the storm that blanketed the region on Tuesday we have seen an additional 7.4″ of snow over the past few days. This daily precipitation over Thursday, Friday and Saturday on a high W wind has brought accumulated snow into the dominate lee into the Ravines. Expect small pockets to grow, creating bed surfaces that are creeping along in size, getting us closer to a General Bulletin. Although small and very isolated, you may find a small pocket or two on your climbing route requiring some risk assessment and thought on your part. With this said, we were starting from scratch as of last Monday with mostly a brown mountain. Additional upslope snow today (Sunday 1/3) will be ushered out by clearing conditions and an arctic air mass by tomorrow. By Monday night we should see -10F on the higher summits, a rude awakening for sure! There will be no melting for awhile as we enter gaining mode in the White Mountains for both ice and snow coverage.

Please consider the following as you plan your trip:

  • Hiking trails through steep terrain (e.g. Tuckerman and Huntington Ravine trails) may be covered in ice and snow. Mountaineering skills and equipment are required for safe travel on these routes. Microspikes are not a substitute for real crampons in steep icy terrain.
  • The Lion Head Summer Trail is still open, and the Winter Route is closed due to lack of snow. The Summer Trail does have a lot of water ice on it, making crampons or other traction devices a smart choice.
  • Ice climbing routes are still developing. Expect some difficulty to protect routes well in the Huntington’s gullies and areas of the Tuckerman Headwall.
  • Check summit weather forecasts before heading out. You can find the MWObs summit forecast here or the National Weather Service summits forecast here.
  • Avalanche hazards can exist in very small areas. Expect a handful of micro/nano sized bed surfaces to accept the loading of new snow. Although not enough to justify an avalanche General Bulletin or Avalanche Advisory, be prepared for some extremely isolated areas of instability with future snowfalls. Be sure to check back for updated information as winter continues to take hold up here.

For more information contact the Forest Service Snow Rangers, the AMC at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, or the caretakers at Hermit Lake Shelters or the Harvard Cabin.

Christopher Joosen, Snow Ranger
USDA Forest Service
White Mountain National Forest
(603) 466-2713 TTY (603) 466-2856

2016-01-03 Information Posting

 

Early Winter Information – December 29, 2015

This is an updated early winter informational statement. We’ll continue to monitor conditions closely and will issue a General Bulletin or Avalanche Advisory when the likelihood and consequence of avalanches increase.

We have been paying attention, for sure, but Mother Nature has not been cooperative in getting this winter underway. Today (12/29) we are experiencing a winter storm across the entire region, which certainly makes it feel more like winter than it had been feeling. This new snow will have an effect, but prior to it there was only about 1″ of snow sitting on the ground. Seriously, the total snow depth on 12/28 was about 1″. Aside from a small isolated patch of snow at the top of Left Gully, there was nothing that resembled a snowfield. So in essence, we are still waiting for enough snow to fill in the ravines to warrant issuing our first General Bulletin.

Please consider the following as you plan your trip:

  • Hiking trails through steep terrain (e.g. Tuckerman and Huntington Ravine trails) may be covered in ice and snow. Mountaineering skills and equipment are required for safe travel on these routes. Microspikes are not a substitute for real crampons in steep icy terrain.
  • The Lion Head Summer Trail is still open and at this pace, it’ll stay open for a while yet. This trail does have a lot of water ice on it, making crampons or other traction devices a smart choice.
  • Ice climbing routes are still developing. One recent report was that the ice in Pinnacle Gully is gone. Expect poor protection and ample amounts of water in Huntington’s gullies and in the headwall area of Tuckerman. Remember that on Christmas Eve the summit broke a record with a max temperature of 46F.
  • The length of daylight is very short at this time of year. Carry a headlamp or two, even if you have no expectation to need it.
  • Check summit weather forecasts before heading out. Weather above treeline is often much worse than down at the base. You can find the MWObs summit forecast here or theNational Weather Service summits forecast here.
  • Avalanche hazards can exist in very small areas. Expect a handful of micro/nano sized bed surfaces to accept the loading of new snow. Although not enough to justify an avalanche General Bulletin or Avalanche Advisory, be prepared for some extremely isolated areas of instability with future snowfalls. Be sure to check back for updated information as winter continues to take hold up here.

For more information contact the Forest Service Snow Rangers, the AMC at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, or the caretakers at Hermit Lake Shelters or the Harvard Cabin. Re-posted Saturday, January 2, 2016 for testing purposes.

Jeff Lane, Snow Ranger
USDA Forest Service
White Mountain National Forest
(603) 466-2713 TTY (603) 466-2856

2015-12-29 Information Posting