Jan 232015

Over the years we have kept our products fairly consistent with slow change being a general theme.  In our avalanche advisory formats we have followed periodic agreements made within the professional avalanche community at our annual National Avalanche Center meetings.  Over the past 20-25 years we have gone through several iterations of the danger scale definitions.  We have added another descriptor- “Considerable”, reworked the travel advice and more recently added “Avalanche Problems” as several examples.  Only when you take an advisory from 20 years ago and compare it to today do you get a sense of drastic change.  Saying this, there is no way to ignore the pace of technology and take advantage of digital tools to deliver messages.  One thing we have begun to capitalize on over the past several years is our new WordPress website platform.  Certainly integrating social media tools such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook as well as blogs like our “The Pit” and the “Weekend Update” are recent evolutions.  These were chosen to reach out and make more people aware that we provide daily avalanche forecasts to help them understand avalanche danger and have a safe day in the hills.  As we use these different mediums we have the advantage of using feedback through Google Analytics.  This has been revealing, interesting, and often perplexing on how people use our website.   As an example many more people visit our site to read about the aftermath of an accident than come to see information designed as preventative information to avoid accidents. However, we understand that’s human nature and we’re not much different when we go to our colleagues websites to read more about avalanche accidents.

Using Google analytics has made us think about how we use our time, focus our efforts and determine what we could do better.  This brings me to the topic of the Weekend Update and how many people use this tool.  The intent of starting the Update on Friday nights 4 years ago was to provide last minute updates for people planning a weekend.  In particular, providing updates on higher summit weather forecasts provided by the National Weather Service at http://forecast.weather.gov/product.php?site=NWS&issuedby=GYX&product=REC&format=CI&version=1&glossary=1&highlight=on and the Mount Washington Observatory at https://www.mountwashington.org/experience-the-weather/higher-summit-forecast.aspx  The weather update timing is based around model runs and when this new data is released by the algorithms. Depending on the weather model they are updated every 6 or 12 hours, synchronizing together at midnight and noon.  So the twelve noon info could be very helpful if a weekend storm track is still in question or wind speeds still need to be dialed in a bit.  In reality, it was rare that this model run came together as a critical new piece of data.  Additionally, winter use numbers are quite low for the Friday product, only averaging between 50-70 unique users on Friday and Saturday morning. As we transition into late March these number begin to rise dramatically to a peak in April with a mean around 550-600 visits.  Although we regret stopping anything that people find useful, we have decided to shift our focus and stop providing Weekend Updates during December, January, February, and most of March.  In its place we have discussed providing condition reports, pictures of the Sherburne, updates of the Winter Lion Head Route, etc. when they are time sensitive in “The Pit”, but not on a scheduled weekly basis.  We believe in winter this will be more useful and won’t become obsolete in a day or two like the Weekend Update.  This week we will also provide a questionnaire/survey on the Weekend Update page to get feedback about whether or not to continue it’s use during Spring Skiing when it appears more popular.  We are open to feed back around what products you think will be most helpful and will include a text box to offer comments.  We thank you for reading, seeking advice, and heeding safety suggestions so you can make it back to your car at the end of the day.  It’s been about 25 years for me up here on the big little mountain and I have learned a lot along the way.  In great part for using one mouth and two ears so I’m eager to hear what you think.  To the 50 or so that read this tonight thanks for your commitment and loyalty to www.mountwashingtonavalanchecenter.org  The End. Chris

 Posted by at 6:34 pm
Jan 232015

This advisory expires tonight at 12:00 midnight.

Tuckerman and Huntington Ravines have Low avalanche danger.   Natural and human-triggered avalanches are unlikely, but watch for unstable snow in isolated terrain features. It is important to realize these pockets do exist and can produce smaller avalanches in remote steep locations.  This is a greater concern in Tuckerman than in the wind scoured gullies of Huntington.

AVALANCHE PROBLEM: Persistent Slabs are the primary avalanche concern today. These slabs exist as both as hangfire from the natural avalanche cycles on Sunday and as pencil hard slabs from the wind loading on Tuesday. These are most likely to be found beneath the highly wind protected upper ice flows in the Tuckerman Headwall area. The second threat is from softer wind slab that developed as winds died down on Tuesday. Look for these smaller, but touchier slabs (1F hardness) behind terrain features in strong lee areas such as lookers left at the top of Right Gully, and along steep buttresses.

WEATHER: Weather will start transitioning late today from the clear high pressure system to increasing clouds with the approaching low pressure from the south. However, nice weather will continue for a day in the mountains and should not affect snow stability. An increasing wind may move just a little alpine snow, but not enough to load in as a new problem. Late tomorrow and into the early Sunday morning we will pick up some new snow, albeit scant.

SNOWPACK: Field time yesterday and a lot of discussion led us to settle on a Low rating today despite the fact that Persistent Slabs more often than not for us earn a Moderate rating. The main driver behind the Low rating is that the persistent weak layer of facets in question was discontinuous in nature even before this last avalanche cycle. Persistent slabs are typically hard, stubborn and therefore resistant to a human acting as a trigger.  Although this is true for our current situation we also have limited weak layers keeping us from moving our concern to a higher rating.  In addition, we believe the tensile slab strength of varying depth is bridging over an occasional deeper facet layer or isolated graupel pool.  Intense spatial variability and the discontinuous nature of the slabs and weak layers lead us to believe isolated pockets of concern most accurately describe our snowpack. While you may find some smooth Q2 shovel shears among the wind slab layers you will generally find them “hard” and stubborn. There is a lot of bridging power in hard slabs like these. That said, I would be careful of any of these slabs sitting on top of ice flows such as in the Center Bowl area. As always, mitigate your exposure to avalanche threats by careful route selection.

Look for more terrain/conditions photos today on our Facebook page and possibly the new Flickr account if all goes well on the technology front. The Sherburne is not particularly enjoyable skiing unless you like hard snow and water bars. It is currently plagued with a brutal frozen rain crust on it’s upper half. Right Gully saw a half dozen skiers yesterday on firm but smooth and carvable snow. Many other areas such as Left Gully were much more bumpy due to wind whipped sastrugi. Chris is writing what may be his last weekend update today….look for that later today.

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 8:40 a.m. January 23, 2015. A new advisory will be issued tomorrow.

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

2015-01-23 print friendly