Avalanche Advisory for Thursday, 12-27-2012

Expires tonight at midnight December 27th 2012.

Tuckerman and Huntington Ravines will have HIGH avalanche danger today.  Natural avalanches are likely and human triggered avalanches are very likely on a variety of slope angles and aspects.  Very dangerous avalanche conditions exist and travel in avalanche terrain is not recommended.

It’s no secret that a major weather maker is impacting the area as we speak triggering a “Winter Storm Warning” until tomorrow morning.  Forecasted snow totals have vacillated back and forth a bit with each weather model run, but currently the mountains of NH are expecting 12-18” (30-45cm) with potential more in localized  areas.  This precipitation is being delivered on high ESE and E winds gusting in the 90-100mph (144-160kph) range this morning.  This will back off as the day progresses being a more effective loader of snow in our terrain versus the current scouring agent.  Our greatest concern today is the cross loading of N and S facing aspects which will become more unstable into the afternoon.  Although east facing aspects, such as the Tuckerman Headwall, will receive a much higher degree of scouring small terrain features on these aspects will also receive some cross loading depending on the exact wind direction.  Because of this it is important not to generalize too much concerning what aspects might being getting completely scoured.

It’s early in the season so there are a number of the typical locations that have limited bed surfaces.  The Lobster Claw, high in Right gully, North gully and South Gully are some examples of thin couloirs with multiple anchors scattered through their terrain.  They will take longer to reach the “High” forecast and may sit in the “Considerable” range for a good portion of the storm event flirting with the High danger definition.  However, copious amounts of low density snow rapidly loaded by high snowfall rates and wind will eventually make many anchors in these areas moot, hence the High rating.  The blanket rating today for the two Ravines is greatly hinged on the potential for far over a foot of snow.  Given the potential for atypical avalanche activity in locales that were a bushwhack yesterday, very high winds, and near zero visibility travel in avalanche terrain is certainly not recommended.  Depending how this storm event plays out we may return to not forecasting for some areas due to the lack of bed surfaces.   We’ll have to see how much snow we end up with and the exact duration of high velocity winds.

As this system moves into the Maritimes winds will wrap around through the NE, N and eventually out of the NW tomorrow.  As this move begins to occur overnight we expect South facing aspects to receive additional loading.  As our prevailing winds from the NW get settled in Friday morning a potential for new elevated avalanche concerns should develop tomorrow for aspects with an E and SE component.  Be sure to take a look at the latest avalanche information updated daily and, for a prelude to the weekend, our first Weekend Update on www.mountwashingtonavalanchecenter.org late Friday afternoon.

Please Remember:

  • Safe travel in avalanche terrain requires training and experience. This advisory 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. Posted 6:40a.m. December 27th, 2012. A new advisory will be issued tomorrow.

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

12-27-2012 Print Friendly

Avalanche Advisory for Wednesday, December 26th 2012

Expires 12:00 midnight December 26, 2012

Tuckerman and Huntington Ravines have Moderate avalanche danger today.  Natural avalanches are unlikely and human triggered avalanches are possible.  We have not begun forecasting for the Lobster Claw, Right Gully, the Lower Snowfields, or Little Headwall in Tuckerman and the Escape Hatch in Huntington due to a general lack of snow in these areas.  Forecasting will begin for these areas when conditions warrant although avalanche activity may occur before this point.

This is the first 5 Scale U.S. Danger Rating Advisory of the season. Snow conditions have changed rapidly over the past week and clear skies are finally giving us the first view of the mountain we have had in quite a while.  The summit has received 42.2” (107cm) of snow over the past 10 days bringing us back to the normal range for the month.  Of this, 6.9” (17.5cm) fell yesterday with a low water content of 5% which was easily moved around in a number of gullies.  This has given us some concerns for touchy low density slabs peppered across both Ravines.  The rating of Moderate reflects this issue, but it is not a widespread concern or found in slabs of appreciable size. Because of this we are barely in the definition of Moderate and the savvy traveler with avalanche skills shouldn’t have trouble analyzing the terrain for a reasonable route.  The low density snow from yesterday will likely be the weak layer for the expected storm bearing down upon us from the south.  We will be in a WINTER STORM WARNING beginning tonight and stretching all the way until Friday morning.  Heavy snow will begin during the overnight and through tomorrow. The heaviest periods will be during daylight hours on Thursday accumulating in the neighborhood of 12” (30cm) or more. This will be brought in on building winds from the SE and the E.  These wind directions won’t cause the level of hazard that a westerly event does, but we should see a significant cross loading problems in our N and S facing gullies. Anticipate an elevated avalanche danger during the storm and potentially afterwards on Friday as wrapping winds should shift to our prevailing NW. This will cause new problems.  So….. here we go, winter is fully hunkering in and you’ll be hearing from us every day with a 5 scale danger rating forecast.  Hope you had a great holiday and we’ll talk to you tomorrow.

 Please Remember:

  • Safe travel in avalanche terrain requires training and experience. This advisory 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. Posted 8:33a.m. A new advisory will be issued tomorrow.

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

12-26-2012 Print Friendly

General Advisory for Sunday, 12-23-2012

This is a GENERAL AVALANCHE ADVISORY for Tuckerman and Huntington Ravines.  A new General Advisory will be issued if conditions warrant or within 72 hours of this release.

A General Advisory is issued when there are limited instabilities within the entire forecast area. Snowfields in the ravines are growing in size and  unstable slabs may exist in these locations. Assessing snow stability for yourself as you travel through the mountains is always the right thing to do. Although we have not yet begun issuing daily danger ratings, avalanche activity may still occur. Remember that even a small avalanche from a small snowfield can be quite dangerous, especially in early season conditions such as these.

Overall on Mt. Washington, typical winter conditions were late in arriving. There was scant snow to be found in early December, but from Dec. 16th to the 22nd, the summit has reported a total of 32.2″ of snow. Unfortunately there were some warm temperatures, rain, and mixed precipitation during this time, so this number needs to be seen in the full context of what’s happened here. At lower elevations, we observed much less snowfall and more rain and melting. Around the mountain you’ll find a mix of surfaces, which may include water ice, breakable crusts, strong supportive crusts, and dust on crust, as well as areas where new snow has accumulated more deeply due to wind loading or funneling down a gully. Pay attention if you find an area where the snow has been able to accumulate, because it’s likely to be sitting on top of either a crust or on water ice, neither of which likes to bond well with new snow and could avalanche on you.

Looking ahead at the weather over the next few days, a high pressure system is in the cards, but this doesn’t mean sunny beach weather is here. Expect the weather to be cold and windy as low pressure exits on Sunday and Monday. Tuesday’s forecasts currently call for some light snow showers, but the real gift in Santa’s bag is on Wednesday night and Thursday. The NWS is talking about increasing confidence for a significant winter storm during this time. This may be the storm that pushes us into our daily forecasting routine, but it’s still several days away so we’ll have to be patient for now.

In case you were wondering, the Sherburne does have snow and is skiable from top to bottom. However, it is a backcountry trail, so there is a lot of brush and small trees that are not yet buried. There are also several water bars that contained open water as of Sunday, thanks to the rain on Thursday 12/21.

Please Remember:

  • Safe travel in avalanche terrain requires training and experience. This advisory 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. Posted 9:00, December 23, 2012.

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

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General Advisory for Friday, 12-21-2012

This is a GENERAL AVALANCHE ADVISORY.  A new General Advisory will be issued if conditions warrant or within 72 hours of this release.  This General Advisory pertains to both Tuckerman and Huntington Ravines.

A General Advisory is issued when there are limited instabilities within the entire forecast area. However, there are snowfields that are growing in size and may be unstable. Some examples in Tuckerman include Left Gully, the Chute and the smaller snowfields scattered between ice bulges across the Center Bowl. Some unstable slabs may be poorly bonded to the blue water ice below. Similar conditions may exist in the typical areas of water ice in the narrow Huntington gullies. Assessing snow stability for yourself as you travel through the mountains is always the right thing to do. Keep in mind that avalanche activity may occur before the issuance of a 5-scale forecast and if a snowfield is big enough to recreate on, it’s big enough to avalanche.

It sure has been a week filled with precipitation of all kinds. The higher summits picked up mostly snow with a bit of rain and sleet. Over the last 5 days the summit reports 16.2” (41cm) of snow and mixed precipitation for a total of 2.32” (6cm) of melted water. Snow began on the mountain on Friday in the very early morning. As of this writing, 5” (13cm) has fallen with winds from the south exceeding 70mph (112kph). Unfortunately, we expect most avalanche terrain will see some rain falling on top of the new snow. Rain on snow raises a lot of red flags for travel, even when snowfields are on the smaller side.

Over the weekend you can expect falling temperatures to turn precipitation back to snow. Winds are forecasted to become quite strong on Friday and Sunday, doing a fairly typical transition from a southerly flow on Friday to a more northwesterly direction Saturday and Sunday. The winds may move some newly fallen snow into avalanche terrain, so again I’d advise you to be prepared to make your own snow stability assessments as you travel in avalanche terrain.

At this time of the year new snowfall can make a remarkably rapid change in potential avalanche conditions, so start paying attention to the daily weather and new snow amounts. Be sure to check for the latest avalanche advisory before heading into avalanche terrain. Have a great ramp up into the holidays and maybe we’ll see you up here soon.

Please Remember:

  • Safe travel in avalanche terrain requires training and experience. This advisory 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. Posted 0930 12-21-2012. A new advisory will be issued when conditions warrant.

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

12-21-2012 Print friendly

General Advisory 12-18-2012

Expires Thursday at midnight, December 20th 2012

This is the initial GENERAL AVALANCHE ADVISORY for the 2012-2013 season. A new General Advisory will be issued if conditions warrant or within 72 hours of this release.  This General Advisory pertains only to Tuckerman due to the lack of snow cover in Huntington Ravine. Advisories for Huntington will begin when needed.

A General Advisory is issued when there are limited instabilities within the entire forecast area. However, there are snowfields that are growing in size and may harbor some instabilities. Some examples in Tuckerman include Left Gully and the Chute. These are the two areas in the Ravine that grow in size the earliest in the season and present the largest potential bed surfaces for future snow to load on. Yet, the smaller snowfields that develop in between ice bulges across the Center Bowl can be more problematic.  This can be true because the ice flows attract early season climbers, often “testing” more snow instability potentials.  Keep this in mind and don’t underestimate these smaller patches of snow on your chosen ice climbing route.  Many unstable slabs may be sitting on top of blue water ice with poor bonding at their interface.  In the early season when the mountain is under a General Advisory, you need to make your own avalanche stability assessments and evaluation before venturing into some of these questionable areas. Keep in mind that avalanche activity may occur before the issuance of a 5-scale forecast and if a snowfield is big enough to recreate on, it’s big enough to avalanche.

In anticipation of this first advisory day I took a look back to see how far behind we are this season.  To the surprise of my failing memory we are actually ahead of last year’s advisory writing by 5 days!   With that said the gifts of snow aren’t exactly falling out of old man Nick’s sleigh.  It’s hard not to take it a little personally as I self-examine what I did this year to deserve a big bag of coal (i.e. little snow and some rain.)   But I’m trying to put that behind me as we have entered a better precipitation pattern, now all we need is some cold temperatures to help it all be snow.  Sunday and Monday’s Mount Washington summit snow totaled to about 9” (22.5cm).  This is expected to be followed on Tuesday by snow, freezing rain and probably rain for avalanche terrain, perhaps heavy at times.  As cold air mixes back in Tuesday night into Wednesday snow is expected to return, giving the summits another 4-6”….maybe.   The main point to take home is we are in a new pattern of regular precipitation for the foreseeable future.  At this time of the year new snowfall can make a remarkably rapid change in potential avalanche conditions, so start paying attention to the daily weather and new snow amounts.  I am always impressed how quickly the landscape changes during this time of the season.

Check www.mountwashingtonavalanchecenter.org frequently as we move through late December and certainly check for the latest avalanche advisory before heading into avalanche terrain. We’re excited to be back at it and look forward to seeing you in the mountains!

Please Remember:

  • Safe travel in avalanche terrain requires training and experience. This advisory 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. Posted 0930 12-18-2012. A new advisory will be issued when conditions warrant.

Christopher Joosen, Snow Ranger
USDA Forest Service

2012-12-18 Print-friendly

More ice, less snow

Two weeks has passed since our last post and unfortunately the snow that we are all hoping for has yet to arrive.  Because of this we are still not issuing either a “General  Avalanche Advisory” or a “5-Scale Avalanche Danger Rating Advisory”.  We will continue monitoring conditions daily and will begin advisories when there is enough wide spread issues to do so.   We won’t start forecasts for the first isolated minor pocket to develop so, as always, have your avalanche senses on even though advisories have not yet begun.

While it feels much colder here than it has lately, a quick tally of average temperatures for the first 12 days of December indicates a mean departure in historical average temperatures of 9 degrees warmer. Still, the last week or so, temperatures have been well below the freezing point and a look around the ravines reveals a technical ice climbers paradise, as long as paradise includes really rocky, almost snow free approaches and descents and areas of thin ice.  The recent rain and mixed precipitation has fed some of the more ephemeral ice and mixed routes in the ravines giving the adventurous some good options to scare themselves silly.  Cold nighttime temperatures have begun to freeze the lower volume drips and flows but most flows are still running water with plenty of slush and poor bonding to contend with.

Hikers planning to head to the summit should bear in mind that this past  Sunday night’s (12/9) slushy mixed precipitation is now solidly frozen making some sort of traction device for your feet a helpful, if not required tool for a successful ascent.  Rock hopping and skirting the myriad ice flows on the Tuckerman Ravine trail would make for a long day with lots of detours and possible falls.  Last year’s early season trail conditions were similar and led to at least two people sustaining head injuries which required trips to the hospital.  This time of year, microspikes are more helpful than crampons and worth their weight in gold. If I had a nickel for every frozen, hidden trip hazard that I encountered on the trail today, I could save the nation from falling off the fiscal cliff.

A few words to help you plan an adventure on Mount Washington:

  • Sunset today is 4:06pm with only about 9 hours of daylight to summit and get back to your car or camp. Daylight is still waning.  A headlamp could become your best friend in the event of an injury or slow partner.
  • Sunny days will loosen ice from south facing cliffs.  Be cautious when moving through or travelling below these locations.  Winter has still not locked things in place and the regular sound of icefall in Tuckerman’s is a good reminder that this little mountain can have big consequences to those not mindful of all the potential hazards.
  • Trail conditions will only become more challenging with the approaching cold front  which is likely to drop some snow to obscure the rocks and ice. Plan for more time than usual for your ascent and descent in these ankle breaking conditions.
  • Windspeeds during the day on Saturday will ramp up to the 60-80mph range as temperatures fall to the mid-teens.  Winds in that range make staying upright difficult in exposed areas.
  • Be sure to check current weather forecasts at the Mount Washington Observatory, posted at the Pinkham and Crawford Notch Visitors Centers as well as at the Harvard Cabin and caretaker cabin in Tuckerman Ravine.  The staff in these locations are great at passing along information about current conditions.
  • Avalanche hazards can grow quickly now that we have some bed surfaces beginning to develop.  Be sure to check mountwashingtonavalanchecenter.org as winter continues to take hold up here.

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

 

 

Some new snow, but still not enough

It felt great this morning to wake up and learn that 9″ of new snow had fallen on the summit of Mt. Washington last night. We were warned by the Observatory staff on Wednesday that the Alberta Clipper that was making its way toward us had the potential for a short burst of heavy snowfall. Most of the snow fell over the course of a six hour period, but by daybreak the mountain was in the clear for the day. This allowed for good views on a trip into Tuckerman Ravine (see photos in the sidebar), but unfortunately there still isn’t enough snow to necessitate starting General Advisories just yet.

The problem is that there really wasn’t much snow at all prior to this recent storm. The Presidentials are a very rough mountain range, with lots of little nooks and crannies for snow to get trapped in. In the early season, when there hasn’t been much snow, it takes much more snow to produce the amount of wind loading that we would expect to see mid-winter. So despite 9″ of 6% density snow falling on ideal WNW winds in the 60mph range, there still just isn’t a lot of snow in the ravine. In case you’re curious, at Hermit Lake we measured 17cm of 6% density snow, beautiful, fluffy snow.

If you’re eager to get out in the mountains in the coming days or weeks, there are some things you should be doing to prepare…

  • Keep an eye on this site. We’ll stay tuned in to the mountain weather and keep you posted as well. As soon as snowfields grow some more we’ll likely move to a General Advisory. Once they outgrow those shoes, we’ll move into 5-scale danger ratings. Hopefully that happens soon!
  • Also keep an eye on the higher summits weather forecasts. Winter hasn’t gotten a firm grip on the mountain yet, and going through warm/cold cycles and make for a very dynamic environment, especially if there is rain involved.
  • At this point, consider many of the hiking trails to be mountaineering routes, particularly those going through Tuckerman and Huntington Ravines. Even a simple hike up Mt. Washington’s Lion Head Trail can be tough with just a small amount of snow covering the rocks.
  • If you’re going ice climbing, expect early season conditions. Reports today (11/30) indicated the presence of ice dams and water running behind the ice. Also the ice is not very well bonded to the underlying rock, so its strength might be questionable. Topping out of the gullies may look good from afar, but in reality they’re still very bony.
  • Finally, the Harvard Mountaineering Club cabin is now open for the season. Rich is starting his third season there and would be more than happy to have you as his guests.

Keep your fingers crossed for continued cold and snowy weather,

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

Playing the waiting game

Don’t get overly excited, there isn’t much of any snow on the mountain yet, this is simply an early season check-in. We’ve not yet begun issuing advisories, either General Advisories or 5-scale forecasts. If you’re heading into the mountains in the coming days or weeks, you’ll be on your own for assessing the conditions. We’ll be keeping an eye on conditions, and are patiently waiting for snow to fall. We know that it’s only  a matter of time before we issue our first General Advisory. As the snowfields in the ravines grow, we’ll eventually move into using the 5-scale rating system. Keep an eye on our website in the coming weeks for these events, plus new photos and some other small changes currently in the works.

In the meantime, take advantage of the extra time to sharpen your ice tools and crampons, wax your skis or boards, and go through your winter gear to make sure it’s ready for the upcoming season. For me, that means putting fresh alkaline batteries into my beacons and running them through their annual inspection ritual. I’d also recommend deploying your probe a few times to make sure it still works the way it should and to check your shovel for signs of wear or fatigue. Remember, these are the tools that need to be 100% reliable when it’s time to use them. Don’t put it off until the morning you first head up into the ravines!

Please remember:

  • Safe travel in avalanche terrain requires training and experience. This advisory 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. 

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