Avalanche Forecast for Saturday, December 22, 2018

This forecast was published 12/22/2018 at 7:17 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

New wind slab development on our soon to be refrozen snow surface could increase in size and likelihood quickly this afternoon. The current wet slab avalanche problem has decreased in likelihood since yesterday but remains worthy of respect. Falling temperatures will ultimately eliminate our concerns for wet slab avalanches as the day progresses, but as weather conditions shift to snow and increasing wind should shift your attention to wind slabs. The Headwall area of Tuckerman Ravine has CONSIDERABLE avalanche danger and may be worth avoiding today for potential large wind slab development as well as continued threat of a wet slab this morning. All other forecast areas have MODERATE avalanche danger, where steep and easterly terrain has the greatest chance to collect reactive wind slabs by late today. Realize that as the snow surface refreezes today it will create ideal conditions for a long sliding fall if you brave today’s weather. Crampons, ice axe, and your ability to use them will be necessary tools.

2018-12-22 Printable PDF

Danger Rating by Zone

Mountain Weather

Nearly 3” of rain has been recorded in the past 30 hours on the summit of Mount Washington. 2.4” was measured at our Hermit Lake snow plot since yesterday morning. Yes, those are rain totals. Today brings a transition back to winter. Air temperatures should return to below freezing around midday as precipitation shifts to snow. 1-3” of snow accumulation is forecast, which will fall on wind shifting from the current S through W to NW and possibly gust over 100 mph after dark tonight. A trace of snow early tomorrow should give way to partial clearing as wind decreases.

Primary Avalanche Problem – Wind Slab

Wind Slab




Snowfall later today will combine with increasing NW wind to quickly build reactive wind slabs on easterly terrain. The amount of snow we receive will dictate potential size of new wind slabs, which could become large if we receive the upper end of or greater than the 1-3” forecast. Realize that a matter of hours may be all it takes for sizeable wind slabs to form where there currently are none.

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.

Secondary Avalanche Problem – Wet Slab

Wet Slab




Wet slab avalanches remain a concern this morning and are widespread across much of our terrain. Decreasing in likelihood, this problem will ultimately become a non-issue as our snowpack refreezes. Remember that wet slabs are notoriously difficult to predict.

What is a Wet Slab Avalanche?

  Wet Slab avalanches are the release of a cohesive layer of snow (a slab) that is generally moist or wet when the flow of liquid water weakens the bond between the slab and the surface below (snow or ground). They often occur during prolonged warming events and/or rain-on-snow events. Wet Slabs can be very unpredictable and destructive.

Snowpack and Avalanche Discussion

The warm, wet weather has drastically affected our snowpack. We have yet to make or receive any visual observations of potential avalanche activity or loss of snow coverage though Hermit Lake reported losing 21cm at the stake. We’re certain to have a drastically different scene when the clouds break. Peak wet snow instability has likely passed, though wet avalanches are not ruled out for this morning. Our heavily wetted snowpack will begin to refreeze today. Previous weak layers of concern will be negated by the time full refreeze occurs. A refrozen snow surface will become our new potential bed surface for the snow and wind arriving today, though small snowfall totals should limit size of new wind slabs that develop.

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
05/18/1934 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)

05/07/1939 F26 F .54 in 0 in40 MPH66 MPH

270 (W)

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 12/22/2018 at 7:17 AM.

Ryan Matz, Snow Ranger
USDA Forest Service
White Mountain National Forest