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November 11, 2013
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Summit County forecast calls for end-of-week snowstorm

Late October and early November storms resulted in the best start to the snow riding season in recent memory.

According to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, snowpack levels are above average for November across many zones in the state, with average snow depths being reported in the 10- to 20-inch range. Slightly deeper depths are being reported in the northern San Juan Mountains and northern portions of the Front Range, with the Steamboat zone reporting the highest snow accumulation numbers — as high as 40 inches in some areas — to date.

However, it’s been more than a week since Summit County’s last snowstorm. Although National Weather Service meteorologists in Boulder predict a storm system could hit the High Country as early as Wednesday night, accumulation predictions are on the low side.

“There’s a ridge moving in over the state, which means you guys (in Summit County) are going to have some nice weather tomorrow (Tuesday) and Wednesday,” said meteorologist Kyle Fredin. “Then a northwest Pacific system is going to move in Wednesday night into Thursday, but the best chance for meaningful accumulation won’t happen until Friday.”

Considering immediate forecasts sound less than enticing, avalanche experts worry local skiers and riders will venture into the backcountry to slake their powder thirst. Although snowpack is higher than normal, it’s still well shy of peak season levels, but that doesn’t mean the backcountry is any less dangerous.

Avalanches can happen any time of year, according to Monday’s Colorado Avalanche Information Center report, meaning everyone from late season hikers to early season backcountry riders — as well as hunters working game at higher elevations — need to exercise increased caution when traveling on steep, snow-covered slopes.

Avalanches in the early fall are less frequent than in midwinter, but they are possible once snow begins to accumulate, the report stated. Early season snowfall facets rapidly on the ground, leaving thin layers of very weak snow. When newer snow falls on top, it can create a sensitive slab, called a “persistent slab,” on top of the faceted snow.

Avalanche danger in the fall is only more difficult to predict, as it is easy to discount the amount of snow on the ground because grass and brush sticking out of the snow surface can be misleading, the report stated.

Locally, natural and human-triggered slides are “possible” to “likely” in the backcountry, especially in windblown areas near the Continental Divide, the report stated.

Although windblown pockets provide for the best early season riding, areas with shallow snow may be very close to deep drifted areas, making it possible to ski or ride from a safe area into a dangerous area without traveling far, the report stated.

The best way to manage avalanche risk in the fall is to know the current weather forecast, recognize when there is enough new snow to produce storm avalanches and select terrain that minimizes your exposure to the risk, such as avoiding old snowfields, wind pillows along ridgelines and cross-loaded features like rock outcrops and subridges, the report stated.

“There’s a ridge moving in over the state, which means you guys (in Summit County) are going to have some nice weather tomorrow (Tuesday) and Wednesday,” said meteorologist Kyle Fredin. “Then a northwest Pacific system is going to move in Wednesday night into Thursday, but the best chance for meaningful accumulation won’t happen until Friday.”


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The Summit Daily Updated Nov 12, 2013 09:44AM Published Nov 15, 2013 10:07AM Copyright 2013 The Summit Daily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.