Avalanche Forecast for Saturday, December 15, 2018

This forecast was published 12/15/2018 at 7:07 AM.
A new forecast will be issued tomorrow.

The Mount Washington Avalanche Center will no longer issue daily avalanche forecasts for the 2018/19 season. Read more

The Mount Washington Avalanche Center will no longer issue daily avalanche forecasts for the 2018/19 season. Instead, we will post an updated General Bulletin as needed, in case of significant snow or weather events that might vary from the typical daily changes that come with spring weather. We will also keep you informed about the official closure of the portion of the Tuckerman Ravine Trail from Lunch Rocks through the Lip and Headwall as well as the switch from the Lion Head Winter Route to the summer trail. Observations from the field will continue to be a valuable resource, so please keep submitting photos, videos and observations here and we will do the same. Check the Forecast page for update on Sherburne Trail closures, which are imminent as spring snowmelt continues.

The switch to a General Bulletin does NOT mean that the mountains are now a safe place to ski. The hazards which emerge in the spring are significant and require careful assessment and strategic management. If you have never skied Tuckerman, peruse our Incidents and Accidents page for spring related incidents involving avalanches, long sliding falls, icefall, crevasse and moat falls, and other incidents related to diurnal changes in the snowpack. These will help you understand and plan for these hazards.

The Bottom Line

Our avalanche terrain, which harbors existing wind slab, will go through a period of warming today. For this reason and the period of instability it will bring to our snowpack, avalanche danger will be MODERATE for our forecast areas. This scenario of warming wind slabs has many nuances that can be hard to predict. While wind slabs are larger in size and distribution on east facing aspects, the greater amount of solar gain may have more of an impact on shallower wind slabs that reside on south aspects. Heightened avalanche conditions exist on specific terrain features today that can be avoided with good route planning and careful navigation.

Printable 2018-12-15

Danger Rating by Zone

Mountain Weather

Following a mostly clear Thursday, winter weather brought increasing wind speeds and snowfall  to the summits on Friday. The summit received a total of 1.3” of snow with no new snow at Hermit Lake or Grey Knob. During hours of recorded snowfall, wind started at WSW just under 50 mph and increased to 60 mph shifting due west. Today, upslope snow showers may bring up to another inch of snow to higher elevations with skies clearing by afternoon. Temperatures increased from the high-teens F to 23F on the summit where they currently reside with elevations below 3300’ above freezing at 6am. Temperatures will increase today with a forecast high on Mount Washington of 29F. Wind speed will decrease gradually through the day.

Primary Avalanche Problem – Wind Slab

Wind Slab




Warming wind slab is the avalanche problem today. This particular scenario has a great amount of uncertainty due to temperatures being close to the freezing mark, clearing that will allow solar gain but a short window of actual daylight due to being close to the Winter Solstice, and varying thickness of existing wind slab. While today’s warming will eventually lend stability to the overall snowpack, the first time wind slabs see warmth does decrease stability of the slab for a period of time. South and east facing aspects will be of greater concerns, but for differing reasons. South aspects will see the greatest amount of warming due to length of time in the sun while east facing slopes have the largest size and distribution of wind slab that can be affected.

What is a Windslab Avalanche?

  Wind Slab avalanches are the 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.

Snowpack and Avalanche Discussion

The surface of our snowpack is a mixture of melt-freeze crust and wind slab. Wind slabs range from recently formed to those formed over a week ago. Our snowpack has been very dynamic this season and today will add another change in conditions that will keep avalanche danger elevated. Keeping an eye on the weather today will be key to safely navigating avalanche terrain. Wind slabs that warm are notoriously hard to predict the behavior of, particularly with the various thickness and distribution we have currently in our terrain.

Additional Concerns

Ski trails in the Pinkham Notch area are snow covered with the exception of the rare waterbar that is only half frozen.

Avalanche Safety Information Study

Please contribute to the effort to improve backcountry avalanche forecasts! Researchers in Canada devised a study to better understand how we communicate the avalanche risk, and we need your help. Please fill out this survey. It will take a few minutes, but it will help us as we work on new ways to give you the most important avalanche information.

Snow Plot Information

Density (%)HSTTotalAir TT MaxT MinSkyPrecipComments
0 CM 20.4 MM0CM68 CM11.0 C12.0 C3.5 CObscuredNo precipitation
0 CM 0.0 MM0CM72 CM4.0 C6.0 C2.0 COvercastNo precipitation
0 CM 7.6 MM0CM80 CM1.0 C6.0 C1.0 COvercastNo precipitation
0 CM 0.8 MM0CM84 CM4.0 C10.0 C0.0 CClearNo precipitation
0 CM 0.0 MM0CM84 CM1.0 C1.5 C0.0 CFewNo precipitation

Avalanche Log and Summit Weather

Daily Observations

Thank you Mount Washington Observatory for providing daily weather data from the summit of Mount Washington.

DateMax TempMin TempTotal (SWE)24H Snow & IceWind AvgWind Fastest MileFastest Mile DirAvalanche Activity
05/19/1951 F34 F .6 in 0 in34.2 MPH66 MPH

250 (WSW)

05/18/1934 F26 F 0.06 in 0.5 in39 MPH74 MPH

300 (WNW)

05/17/1940 F28 F .22 in .05 in37 MPH81 MPH

300 (WNW)

05/16/1932 F25 F .03 in 04 in22.8 MPH40 MPH

310 (NW)

05/15/1926 F20 F .05 in .4 in32.1 MPH67 MPH

330 (NNW)

05/14/1928 F17 F .2 in 2 in19.1 MPH57 MPH

100 (E)

05/13/1928 F19 F .07 in 0.9 in34.6 MPH67 MPH

100 (E)

05/12/1931 F17 F 0 in 0 in20.5 MPH47 MPH

330 (NNW)

05/11/1932 F18 F .1 in 0 in53.6 MPH84 MPH

300 (WNW)

05/10/1944 F27 F .85 in 0 in50.1 MPH88 MPH

220 (SW)

05/09/1942 F20 F .04 in 0 in18.6 MPH44 MPH

190 (S)

05/08/1927 F18 F 0 in 0 in38.3 MPH65 MPH

330 (NNW)

Please Remember:

Safe travel in avalanche terrain requires training and experience. This forecast 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.

Avalanche danger may change when actual weather differs from the higher summits forecast.

For more information contact the US Forest Service Snow Rangers, AMC visitor services staff at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, or the caretakers at Hermit Lake Shelters or seasonally at the Harvard Cabin (generally December 1 through March 31). The Mount Washington Ski Patrol is also available on spring weekends.

Posted 12/15/2018 at 7:07 AM.

Helon Hoffer
USDA Forest Service
White Mountain National Forest