Wasatch Cache National Forest

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Avalanche advisory

Sunday, December 08, 2002

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Good Morning.  This is Bruce Tremper with the Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center with your backcountry avalanche and mountain weather advisory.  Today is Sunday, December 08, 2002


Current Conditions:

We’re still doing afternoon updates until winter decides to cooperate.


I’m one of those terminally optimistic people who think that there’s no such thing as bad snow conditions, it’s just that some days are better than others.  But these conditions are beginning to even test my resolve.  Yesterday, one of the Wasatch hard-cores e-mailed us his report which begins, “Having nothing better to do with my life and feeling the need for punishment, I started up at the Porter Fork Road to Gobbler’s Knob.”  His e-mail ends with, “Next time I need punishing, I’ll just find the large-boned blonde wearing leather and carrying a whip, or contact the ex-wife.” 


I wouldn’t quite describe it that way, but unless you are above about 9,000’ in elevation, the conditions are kind of a punishing affair, but there actually are some pockets of soft, settled, recrystalized snow in upper elevation, wind and sun sheltered slopes.  It’s been a month now since we’ve had any significant snow.  Nearly all the snow is melted off the south facing slopes and even the upper elevation north facing slopes have rotted away so that they are nearly bottomless depth hoar and unsupportable in many places.  The surface snow is still the weakest snow with several inches of extremely sugary, faceted snow, topped off with what Evelyn calls “trophy-sized” surface hoar crystals the nearly size of potato chips.     


Avalanche Conditions:

To make a slab avalanche, you need both a slab and a weak layer.  Right now, we certainly have no lack of weak layers, but there’s absolutely no slab.  Consequently, there is very little avalanche danger.  On the steep, north facing slopes, some of the surface snow is so weak it sometimes makes a loose, sluff under you when you travel, which isn’t too much of a problem unless it knocks you off your feet and sends you over the rocks or cliffs. 


Bottom Line (SLC, Ogden, and Provo Area Mountains):

The avalanche danger is generally LOW today.


Avalanche Tip of the Day:

If nothing else, you should get out in the next several days and draw a mental map of where there’s snow and where there’s bare ground.  Next time we get significant snow, we are almost certain to have widespread avalanches on all the slopes with pre-existing snow and very little avalanche danger where new snow falls directly on the bare ground.  Remember that it’s always a lot easier to see weak layers BEFORE they get buried than afterwards.


Mountain Weather:

Today will be yet another great day to get up above the choking layers of thick smog in the valleys and get into the clean air, warm temperatures and sunshine in the mountains.  With mostly sunny skies, the 8,000’ high temperatures should rise up to near 40 today with the ridge top temperatures in the mid 20’s with ridge top winds 15 mph from the northwest. 


The more interesting news, however, is the weather forecast.  We should have a weak system on about Wednesday, which should give us a few clouds and perhaps a snowflake or two.  Then, the long range computer models continue to say we will have a change in the weather pattern by next weekend and they are even bold enough to forecast a stronger storm.  However, it’s still a long way away and this type of pattern tends to make storms split around us at the last minute, so I wouldn’t get too excited quite yet.


General Information:

I will be giving an avalanche talk at REI this Tueaday, December 10th at 7:00 pm, titled “The Science of Avalanches.”  It is a more advanced talk than our usual avalanche awareness talks and is sure to be interesting for all the avalanche nerds out there.  I will also be giving an avalanche talk for the Wasatch Mountain Club on Thursday night, December 12th, at 7:00 pm at the Zions Lutheran Church on Foothill Drive. 


A great Christmas present for someone you love is an avalanche beacon.  To help you decide which one to buy, we have posted a couple recent tests of various brands of avalanche beacons on the web.  Point your browser to www.avalanche.org and click on Salt Lake, then on Education.  At the same location, you can find a complete list of avalanche talks and multi-day classes. 


To report backcountry snow and avalanche conditions, especially if you observe or trigger an avalanche, call (801) 524-5304 or 1-800-662-4140, or email to [email protected] or fax to 801-524-6301.  The information in this advisory is from the U.S. Forest Service, which is solely responsible for its content.  This advisory describes general avalanche conditions and local variations always occur.


I will update this advisory on Monday.


Thanks for calling!




National Weather Service - Salt Lake City - Snow.

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