Winter Conditions in the Alpine

This information was published 10/27/2018 at 7:00 AM.
A new bulletin will be issued when conditions warrant.

The Bottom Line

An early visit from old man winter deposited close to 29″ of snow through the last week of October on the summit of Mount Washington. While a return to warmer temperatures brought freezing rain and then rain and above freezing temperatures, snow on the ground will likely be around for a while. All this snow yielded some early turns for skiers and some crown lines indicating some avalanche activity. Where the snow has fallen and drifted into continuous snowfields, any new snow may find a bed surface to release another avalanche. An new snow means that it will be important to play by the rules of winter, even though the calendar says early November. Here’s a checklist to use as a starting point if you are considering a trip into the high country.

Danger Rating

  • Bring the gear you’d bring in mid-winter including a beacon, probe and shovel. Perform your group beacon check before you leave the car…the batteries last a long time but not forever if you forget to turn it off. Corrosion due to batteries left in your device can damage your beacon. If you haven’t already practiced with your beacons, now is a good time to do that.
  • Plan to be self-sufficient if someone gets injured. Waiting for rescue is seldom your best choice. A lightweight, improvised rescue sled kit or some means of transporting a person with an incapacitating injury should be part of your group gear.
  • Any continuous slope in the 30-40+ degree range should be evaluated for it’s ability to produce an avalanche. Denser snow over softer snow, either from wind packing or warming or rain should be considered suspect. Travel one at a time and avoid lingering in fall line. Helmets are a great idea.
  • Early season avalanches, no matter how small, are dangerous. Rocks and cliffs in the runout of a slide path means that traumatic injury or worse can result if you get caught in a slide. Flat spots on a slope, trees and boulders can serve as terrain traps that pile snow deeply enough to bury a person.
  • Avalanches don’t care about danger ratings or how good a skier you are. 5 scale avalanche advisories will be posted when snowfields grow further and when winter has fully taken hold. As always, you control your exposure to the risk of avalanche and other mountain hazards by choosing where, when, and how you travel.

The ground is not yet solidly frozen, meaning loose rocks are beneath all of this snow. Be sure to account for increased travel time due to challenging travel conditions, even below treeline. The wind that accompanied this week’s snow brought plenty of trees and branches down onto the trails, further complicating travel. Remember the days keep getting shorter, so don’t forget your headlamp!

Snow Plot Information

Density (%)HSTTotalAir TT MaxT MinSkyPrecipComments
0 CM 0.1 MM0CM206 CM-3.5 C7.5 C-7.0 COvercastRain
Trace 1.8 MMTrace216 CM-7.0 C-4.0 C-7.0 CFewNo precipitation
14 CM 23.1 MM 14%62CM222 CM-8.0 C-6.0 C-8.0 COvercastNo precipitation
53 CM 49.5 MM 12%NC200 CM-6.0 C-2.0 C-6.5 COvercastSnowView
0 CM 0.0 MM0CM158 CM-1.0 C8.0 C-4.5 CClearNo precipitation

Avalanche Log and Summit Weather

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
05/25/2054 F46 F 0.0 in 0.0 in18.7 MPH44 MPH

260 (W)

05/24/2054 F40 F 8.3 in 21 in8.3 MPH21 MPH

280 (W)

05/23/2055 F43 F 0.0 in 0.0 in15 MPH45 MPH

300 (WNW)

05/22/2055 F40 F 0.0 in 0.0 in37.4 MPH67 MPH

290 (WNW)

05/21/2053 F38 F 0.0 in 0.0 in29.4 MPH59 MPH

280 (W)

05/20/2050 F34 F 0.0 in 0.0 in29.4 MPH59 MPH

280 (W)

05/19/2041 F27 F 0.0 in 0.0 in15.3 MPH36 MPH

100 (E)

05/19/2050 F34 F 0.0 in 0.0 in11.4 MPH25 MPH

30 (NNE)

05/18/2045 F30 F 0.0 in 0.0 in14.7 MPH36 MPH

70 (ENE)

05/17/2040 F30 F 0.0 in 0.0 in17 MPH35 MPH

270 (W)

05/16/2037 F28 F .16 in 0.0 in38.8 MPH101 MPH

310 (NW)

05/15/2042 F32 F .95 inTrace 31.5 MPH95 MPH

250 (WSW)

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 10/27/2018 at 7:00 AM.

Frank Carus, Lead Snow Ranger
USDA Forest Service
White Mountain National Forest