Utah Avalanche Center - Wasatch Cache National Forest

In partnership with: The Friends of the Utah Avalanche Center, Utah Department of Public Safety Division of Comprehensive Emergency Management, Salt Lake County, and Utah State Parks

 

The Utah Avalanche Center Home page is: http://www.avalanche.org/~uac/

 

End of Season message

Monday, April 28, 2003

 

What a very strange year itís been.The first half of the winter we suffered through the worst drought since 1976.Then, even though February, March and April ended up with average snowfall for upper elevations, true to form for this winter, very little snow fell below about 8,000 feet.For instance, high elevation places like Alta ended better than most with 79 percent of normal.Most of Utahís mountains ended up between 50 and 70 percent of normal and the Salt Lake Airport, had only 36 percent of normal snow.Thanks to the thick layers of depth hoar formed in the first half of the winter, we had an incredible 151 unintentional human triggered avalanches in the backcountry, which smashed our previous record of around 100, yet there was only one fatality.Iíd say Itís time we put this season out of its misery and hope for something better next year.

 

We have quit issuing avalanche advisories for the season, but it doesnít mean that there will be no more avalanches.It just means that the money has run out, and most people would rather ride bikes, work in the garden and go jeepíin than go skiing, boarding or snowmobiling.If you do get out this spring, youíre on your own, so hereís some things to think about.

First, thereís a wealth of information available on the Internet at the usual locations, such as the National Weather Service page (http://www.wrh.noaa.gov/Saltlake/).You can click on the Snow and Avalanche section to look at the automated mountain weather stations.Unfortunately, most of them are shut down for the season, but Snowbird usually operates through the spring and you can always check the temperatures and snow amounts on the SNOTEL sites at (http://www.wrh.noaa.gov/Saltlake/avalanche/snotel/indexWorkArea.html) and we also have a link from our web site at www.avalanche.org and click on Salt Lake.

To figure out whether or not the snow has frozen overnight, itís not quite as simple as looking at the temperatures.With a clear sky, especially combined with dry air, the snow can freeze even at temperatures approaching 40 degrees, although it will usually be a thin freeze.As a general guide, if the overnight low in Salt Lake City is 45, itís frozen in the mountains, a Salt Lake low of 50 means a shallow freeze and 55 and above means no freeze.

The main hazard in spring is usually large wet slab avalanches.These occur when a cold, dry snowpack first warms up to freezing and water begins to percolate through the snowpack.This occurs in early spring on south facing slopes, in mid spring on east and west facing slopes and in late spring on upper elevation north facing slopes.They often happen after three nights where the snowpack did not freeze combined with strong melting during the day.Another form of wet slab avalanche is a glide avalanche, which means the entire snowpack slides slowly on the ground, kind of like a glacier until they release catastrophically.These usually happen on steep rock slabs such as in Broadís Fork and Stairs Gulch.They can happen any time of day an in most any kind of temperatures but especially during very warm conditions and they can easily happen just after a freeze at the end of a warm period.The bottom line is that places like Broadís Fork, Stairs Gulch and the Cardiff Fork rock slabs are bad places to be in spring.

Finally, you will have to worry about the usual round of new snow sluffs and soft slab avalanches that occur with each snow storm.As always, you should avoid steep slopes with recent deposits of wind drifted snow.Most every spring, there are several close calls at the resorts that are closed for the season.People are used to those slopes being safe because the ski patrol does avalanche control each day, but remember that when the resorts are not open, itís just like the Stone Age.Youíre have to be your own avalanche expert.

Well, itís been an interesting year, but Iím glad itís over.Letís hope for the epic snow year next season.If you need to get a hold of me during the spring or summer you can leave a message on our machine, which I will check sporatically.Our number is 801-524-5304.

 

Thanks for calling!

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