Early Season Update for 12/1/12

Wetter, cooler weather with potential for heavy snow accumulation at the higher elevations is forecast for the next few days.  Hello! This is Steve Karkanen at the West Central Montana Avalanche Center with an early season update for Saturday December 1, 2012.

Higher elevation SNOTEL locations in western Montana have been showing 15″-20″ of snow on the ground for a few days along with above freezing temperatures. The storm expected this weekend should deliver what it takes to get the ski areas opened and give backcountry locations the snow needed for early turns.

This storm is a classic Pineapple Express streaming heavy moisture, high wind and warm temperatures into western Montana. Temperatures will begin cooling Sunday with lowering snow levels and several inches of snow accumulating in the mountains.

The weather and snow conditions to this point bode well for the future stability of our mountain snowpack.  The late October and November snow was influenced by warm temperatures and rain in many areas so it did not have a chance to facet as has happened in previous years.  This current system is starting out warm and will cool as it passes.

The immediate concern for avalanche safety will be wind slabs that form on leeward terrain and heavy new snow on steep open terrain with few anchors.

The factors indicative of avalanche danger are heavy snowfall, high winds, avalanche activity, cracking or collapsing of the snowpack and rain or rapid warming of the snow.

If you get out and see any of these signs, it’s probably not a good idea to jump into any steep slope without first checking it out.  Always carry rescue equipment and never expose more than one person at a time in terrain steep enough to produce an avalanche.

We begin issuing regular avalanche advisories on Friday, December 21 and every Tuesday and Friday thereafter into April. If you get out and experience snow, weather or avalanche conditions that would benefit our users, send us an observation or a quick note at info@missoulaavalanche.org.

Education and Events

Two free avalanche awareness classes are available before Christmas. A December 5 class sponsored by the UM Outdoor Program, 7pm at the North Urey Lecture Hall on campus, and a December 11 class sponsored by the Missoula Rocky Mountaineers, 7pm at the Trailhead.  We are also offering several Level 1 classes and 1 Level 2 class this winter. These classes are popular and quickly fill so please contact the appropriate group asap.

On January 16, the Kettlehouse is sponsoring a Community UNite! event to benefit the West Central Montana Avalanche Foundation. Proceeds from this and other events help pay for avalanche education in the Missoula area, support avalanche education in local schools and help provide these advisories. See you there!