Forecast for the Salt Lake Area Mountains

Mark Staples
Issued by Mark Staples for
Thursday, March 26, 2020
Today the avalanche danger is CONSIDERABLE at mid and upper elevations. There were avalanches triggered yesterday and more should occur today. Heavy snowfall this morning and gusty winds will make conditions dangerous. At low elevations the avalanche danger is MODERATE.
The safest option will be to seek out low angle slopes sheltered from winds at low elevations.
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Weather and Snow
Snow: As of 6 a.m. an additional 4-5 inches of snow fell overnight and it is still snowing. Snowfall really picked up in upper Little Cottonwood Canyon this morning at 2-3 inches/hour with a total of 8 inches overnight. Total snowfall this week is 12-21 inches (0.75-1.85 inches of water) with upper parts of the Cottonwood Canyons receiving the most.
This morning temperatures range from the mid teens F to the mid 20s F. Winds were mostly light yesterday but increased some yesterday afternoon and overnight. This morning winds are still a bit gusty. They are averaging 10-15 mph from the south-southwest and gusting 20-35 mph.
Today, steady snowfall should continue into mid morning and then becoming more intermittent bringing another 3-5 inches of snow. Cloudy skies will prevent temperatures from warming beyond the upper 20s F. Winds should calm later this morning when they shift to the northwest.
The new snow is generally right side up on wind-sheltered slopes - meaning the upper layers are lighter and lower layers are denser HOWEVER gusty winds this morning created a denser layer of snow on top of lighter snow.
Recent Avalanches
HEADS UP: With snow falling at a rate of 2-3 inches per hour this morning in upper Little Cottonwood Canyon, we haven't received any reports of avalanches yet, but I expect some natural avalanches in the new snow are happening.
Yesterday there were 8 soft slab avalanches triggered in the new snow. All were about a foot deep and 25-125 feet wide and generally occurring above 9500 feet. Most occurred on northerly facing slopes, but two occurred on southerly facing slopes where the new snow had not bonded to an ice crust underneath.
Many of them likely failed on some graupel that fell early this week. Below is a photo of one I triggered on Little Water Peak.
Avalanche Problem #1
Wind Drifted Snow
This morning's gusty winds drifted the new snow and created a dense layer of snow on top of lighter snow that fell yesterday. This upside-down snow should be obvious because you will see a smooth or rippled texture on the snow surface. You should also feel this upside down snow if you get out of a skin track and walk through undisturbed snow.
Today I would simply avoid ANY slope that has wind drifted snow at mid and upper elevations. Upside down snow is a classic recipe for avalanches.
The trouble is that snow will keep falling today and winds should ease. The new snow will make it harder to identify these wind drifted slopes visually but you should still feel them with your skis or boards because the snow feels "punchy" as you break through the denser snow into the lighter snow underneath it.
Avalanche Problem #2
New Snow
Yesterday's avalanches are a clear sign that the new snow needs more time to bond with underlying snow. The weight and stress of new snow this morning will keep this instability alive today. Not only will the amount of new snow be a problem, but the rapid rate of snowfall in upper Little Cottonwood will make the new snow unstable.
This problem appears to be mostly above 9500 feet but I am unsure how widespread it is. Some people reported a good bond between the new snow and old snow on other slopes. So there you have it, you'll have to be a detective, but now is not a good time to take any chances.
The simple solution is to ride slopes less than 30 degrees in steepness where avalanches won't occur.
General Announcements
This information does not apply to developed ski areas or highways where avalanche control is normally done. This forecast is from the U.S.D.A. Forest Service, which is solely responsible for its content. This forecast describes general avalanche conditions and local variations always occur.