THIS SNOWPACK SUMMARY EXPIRED ON February 14, 2015 @ 7:00 am
Snowpack Summary published on February 13, 2015 @ 7:00 am
Issued by Ben Bernall - Kootenai National Forest
Avalanche Character 1: Wet Slab
Wet Slab avalanches occur when there is liquid water in the snowpack, and can release during the first few days of a warming period. Travel early in the day and avoid avalanche terrain when you see pinwheels, roller balls, loose wet avalanches, or during rain-on-snow events.

The surface of our snowpack is dominated by a thick wet slab that has retained moisture from the massive rain on snow event of last Friday-Saturday.  This wet slab resides on an excellent bed surface (knife hard rain crust) but requires moderate force to initiate failure.  Above freezing temperatures will allow this wet slab to persist till Saturday or Sunday when below freezing temperatures finally arrive.  Until this wet slab cools down and refreezes, back country travelers need to stay cautious and factor it into their decision making processes. 

Avalanche Character 2: Deep Slab
Deep Slab avalanches are destructive and deadly events that can release months after the weak layer was buried. They are scarce compared to Storm or Wind Slab avalanches. Their cycles include fewer avalanches and occur over a larger region. You can triggered them from well down in the avalanche path, and after dozens of tracks have crossed the slope. Avoid the terrain identified in the forecast and give yourself a wide safety buffer to address the uncertainty.

We have been tracking this deep slab in our snowpits for well over a month now.  It takes hard force to initiate failure but has always resulted in FULL propagation across the column.  This alarms us!  Deep slabs are dificult forecast, can be very destructive, and are often triggered from areas of a shallow weak snowpack.  Best travel advice is to avoid thin snowpack areas, weak areas near rocks or out crops, and convex slopes.

Snowpack Discussion

We are still most concerned about the residual snowpack effects of the massive rain on snow event of last Friday - Saturday.  Hopefully, we will transition out of this wet and soft snowpack condition when below freezing tempertaures arrive Saturday or Sunday.  Remember that it takes time for freezing temperatures to penetrate the snowpack.  We can get a solid surface quickly as temperatures drop, but it may take another day or two of cold weather to reach the bottom of this wet soft layer.  Until then, continue to use the good solid decision making that has allowed you to return home safely each day. 

recent observations

Today I visited Smith Mountain 6,523 feet in the West Cabinet Range.  There I encountered a 76 inch deep snowpack on a steep southeast aspect.  The snowpack is nearly isothermal.  Ski and snowmobile penetration is 4-6 inches while boot penetration is 10-12 inches.  With some night time cooling, a 1 inch breakable crust has formed at the surface.  Below this is 13 inches of wet/soft layers residing on a knife hard rain crust.  The remainder of the snowpack below this crust is dry and hard (1 finger to pencil hard).  The benchmark Thanksgiving rain crust is found at the 18 to 22 inch level.

Extended Column Tests yielded partial propagation with moderate force (ECTN 18) above the knife hard rain crust at the 62 inch level.  Above this is a 14 inch wet slab.  A second fracture that produced partial propagation with hard force (ECTN 21)  was at the 54 inch level. 

Above this is a 8 inch dry 1 finger hard slab. 

weather

Since the Tuesday, February 10th advisory, weather in the Kootenai Region has been warm and dry.  All SNOTEL sites are reporting tempertaures above 35º F except Hawkins Lake at 6,450 feet reporting above 32º F.  All sites continue to report SWE drainage from the snowpack ranging from -0.1 inch to -0.3 inch.  All sites continue to report snowpack settlement of 1 inch to 4 inches.  Weather yesterday at Smith Mountain 6,523 feet (Smith Patrol Summit) in the West Cabinet Range  (W. Cabinet Range south of Smith Mtn) was mostly cloudy, no new snow, ridgetop winds southwest at 5-12 mph, and 35ºF.  Forecasted weather through Saturday is mostly cloudy (60-80% cloud cover), temperatures above freezing day and night, southwest winds 4-9 mph, no chance of precipitation till Saturday (60%), accumulations of 1 inch above 5,500 feet, and light rain below 5,500 feet.

Disclaimer

This advisory applies only to backcountry areas outside established ski area boundaries. This advisory describes general avalanche conditions and local variations always occur. This advisory expires midnight on the posted day unless otherwise noted. The information in this advisory is provided by the USDA Forest Service who is solely responsible for its content.