Idaho Spring Flood and Water Resources Outlook

M1The potential for spring flooding due to snowmelt is elevated for portions of eastern Idaho and northern Idaho. The spring flood risk for the rest of the state is average or below average. There remains an elevated risk of spring flooding across portions of the Upper Snake Basin due to above average mountain snowpack. This includes the mainstem Snake River above American Falls Reservoir and the Henrys Fork near Rexburg. An elevated flood risk also exists across the Panhandle Region where some of the highest snowpack percentages in the state reside. Elsewhere across Idaho, early May snowpack conditions suggest a low probability of spring flooding due to snowmelt. The primary factors in the development of spring flooding are the occurrence of persistent above normal temperatures, and rain on snow precipitation events. Even for areas where drought conditions exist, or that have low snowpack, spring flooding is possible under the right conditions. Additionally, burn scars can have a significant impact on local flood potential during spring snowmelt and rain events.M2

Water Supply

National Weather Service April through September water supply volume forecasts for northern and eastern Idaho, and the mainstem Snake River across southern Idaho range from 115 to 150 percent of average. Elsewhere, water supply forecasts are 85 to 110 percent of average for most of the Central Mountains and only 30 to 70 percent of average for south central and southwest Idaho. The lowest forecast percentages are in far southwest Idaho in the Bruneau and Owyhee River Basins at less than 40 percent of average.M3

Temperature and Precipitation

As of May 1, temperatures for the 2018 Water Year have been average or slightly below average across the northern half of the state while most of southern Idaho has experienced a little above average temperatures. Water Year precipitation was above average for the Panhandle, Spokane, and Clearwater Basins. The Clearwater Basin had the greatest anomalies in the state at 130 to 150 percent of average. The Salmon Basin and Upper Snake Basin near the Wyoming border were generally 100 to 130 percent of average. Elsewhere in southern and southwest Idaho the Water Year precipitation was mostly in the 70 to 90 percent of average range with pockets of around 60 percent.

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Snowpack

As of May 2, the highest snowpack percentages in the state ranged from 138 to 145 percent of median in the Clearwater, Spokane and Northern Panhandle Region. Not far behind were basins in eastern Idaho such as the Little Lost and Birch Basins, Henrys Fork, Teton, and Snake Basin above Palisades at 120 to 130 percent. The Payette, Boise, Salmon, Wood and Lost Basins ranged from 74 to 109 percent of median. Southside Snake River Basins along the Nevada border were a mixed bag ranging from a low of 17 percent of median in the Owyhee Basin to a high of 86 percent of median in the Raft River Basin. Northern Idaho basins and those near the continental divide reached their peak snowpack in mid to late April. The low elevation snow is gone and melting of the high elevations will increase over the next few weeks as temperatures warm.

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Reservoirs

Reservoir storage across Idaho is in good shape. As of May 1, storage in major reservoir systems throughout Idaho was 100 percent of average or greater, except where systems were heavily drafted to make space for anticipated snowmelt runoff. Weather patterns and irrigation demand will continue to drive operations through late spring as reservoirs are topped off. Wet spring weather or extended periods of warmth resulting in rapid snowmelt and large reservoir inflows could result in significant fluctuations in reservoir discharge and downstream river levels.

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Drought

Idaho is currently free from any official drought classification according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. However, below average precipitation for the Water Year and poor snowpack has put much of southern Idaho in the abnormally dry category. Weather and precipitation for the remainder of spring will determine whether or not conditions improve or deteriorate for areas experiencing the dryness. Good reservoir storage will ease drought concerns for those served by major storage projects.

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Long Range and Seasonal Outlooks

The outlook for May favors above normal temperatures across the state. The May precipitation outlook favors above normal precipitation for southeast Idaho and below normal precipitation for the northwest half of the state. The seasonal outlook for June through August favors above normal temperatures and below normal precipitation.

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On-line Resources

Water Supply Volume Forecasts…
National Weather Service-Northwest River Forecast Center www.nwrfc.noaa.gov/ws/
National Weather Service-Colorado Basin River Forecast Center www.cbrfc.noaa.gov/
USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/id/snow/

Snowpack Information…
National Weather Service-Northwest River Forecast Center www.nwrfc.noaa.gov/snow/
National Weather Service-National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center www.nohrsc.noaa.gov/
USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/id/snow/

Reservoir Storage…
Bureau of Reclamation Reservoir Storage www.usbr.gov/pn/hydromet/select.html
USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service www.wcc.nrcs.usda.gov/basin.html

Drought Information…
U.S. Drought Portal www.drought.gov
U.S. Drought Monitor www.droughtmonitor.unl.edu/
National Drought Mitigation Center www.drought.unl.edu/

Peak Flow Forecasts…
Northwest River Forecast Center www.nwrfc.noaa.gov/peak/
Colorado Basin River Forecast Center www.cbrfc.noaa.gov/rmap/peak/peaklist.php

Temperature and Precipitation Outlook…
Climate Prediction Center www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/

 

Interested in measuring precipitation? Join the CoCoRaHS observing network.

Join CoCoRaHS Today!cocorahs

CoCoRaHS is a practical, enjoyable and useful activity. If you have an interest in weather and would like to help your local community, as well as scientists and others interested in precipitation, then CoCoRaHS is for you. It only takes a few minutes a day and gives you the chance to participate in real hands-on science. You’ll be amazed at what you learn as you become more aware of the variable weather that impacts you, your neighbors, your state and our entire country.

Data on the web

Volunteers submit their observations using the CoCoRaHS website or apps. Observations are immediately available to the public via maps and data analysis tools, and to data users via the CoCoRaHS Web API. Data users such as scientists, resource manages, decision makers and others have come to rely on the high density, high quality measurements provided by CoCoRaHS observers.

CoCoRaHS is Educational

CoCoRaHS offers learning opportunities too. In addition to training materials, newsletters and the ‘Message of the Day’, members also enjoy opportunities to attend Webinars featuring experts in weather, climatology and other pertinent disciplines. CoCoRaHS offers classroom resources for K-12 teachers. Students get to collect and submit real scientific data – all while meeting State and National Standards in science, math, geography and more!

What is CoCoRaHS?

The Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network, is a non-profit, community based, network of volunteers who measure and report rain, hail and snow in their backyards.

A brief History

CoCoRaHS came about as a result of a devastating flash flood that hit Fort Collins, Colorado in July 1997. A very localized storm dumped over a foot of rain in several hours while other portions of the city had only modest rainfall. The ensuing flood caught many by surprise, caused $200 million in damages, and resulted in five deaths. CoCoRaHS was born in 1998 with the intent of doing a better job of mapping and reporting intense storms. CoCoRaHS became a nationwide volunteer network in 2010 and is now international with observers helping provide critical precipitation observations, benefiting their country’s needs.

Volunteers of all ages welcome!

Individuals and family volunteers of all ages and all walks of life are the foundation of the CoCoRaHS network, Anyone can help. It only takes a few minutes to check the rain gauge and report your observations.

Training: “the Key to our success”

It is important that all CoCoRaHS precipitation reports be accurate and consistant. Training is provided on how to install gauges, properly measure precipitation and transmit reports. CoCoRaHS precipitation reports are accurate and very useful.

Why is there so much interest in rain, hail and snow?

Precipitation is essential for life. It varies greatly with topography, storm type and season. It really is true that it may pour on one side of the street and be dry on the other. A portion of a field may be pounded by hail while others nearby receive no damage. Snowfall may pile up in one neighborhood and only dust another. Rain, hail and snow are fairly easy to measure, and the data collected are very important. Meteorologists, hydrologists, engineers, builders, farmers . . . you name it, everyone seems to care about rain, hail and snow. That’s why we ask, “How much fell in your backyard?” There are limited observations across southwest Idaho and southeast Oregon, compared to the rest of the country, so we would love to have your observations. To learn more about the CoCoRaHS program and to see where your fellow observers have recorded rain amounts, visit http://www.cocorahs.org/.

Invite your neighbors, relatives and friends by sending them this “Join” link: http://www.cocorahs.org/application.aspx

Idaho Spring Flood and Water Resources Outlook

The potential for spring flooding due to snowmelt is slightly elevated for portions of eastern and north central Idaho. The spring flood risk for the rest of the state is average to below average. SWE-2-12

Good soil moisture recharge from autumn rains and well above average reservoir storage has resulted in a slightly elevated threat of spring flooding along the mainstem Snake River in eastern Idaho, and along smaller tributaries above Idaho Falls. Spring flood risk is also slightly elevated in the Clearwater Basin which is currently holding one of the greatest snowpack percentages in the state. Elsewhere, the absence of low elevation snow and areas of below average mid elevation snow suggest an average or below average spring flood threat.

The primary factors in the development of spring flooding are the occurrence of persistent above normal temperatures, and rain on snow precipitation events. Even for areas that have low snowpack, spring flooding is possible under the right scenario. Additionally, wildfire burn scars can have a significant impact on local flood potential during spring snowmelt.

Precipitation and Temperature

As of early February, Water Year precipitation was near normal or above normal for the Panhandle, Spokane, Clearwater, and Salmon Basins, as well as the Upper Snake Basin near the Wyoming border. The Clearwater Basin had the greatest anomalies at 130 to 150 percent of  average. Aside from the Snake River headwaters region, Water Year  precipitation across southern Idaho stood at 60 to 80 percent of  average with south side Snake River Basins having the lowest  percentages.  Average temperatures for the Water Year have been above average for almost the entire state, especially across southern Idaho. 1

 

Snowpack

As of February 12, the highest snowpack percentages in the state were 114 and 116 percent of median in the Clearwater Basin and the Upper Snake above Palisades. Percentages were 91 to 107 percent of median for basins along the Montana border in eastern Idaho, and the Salmon, Spokane, and Panhandle Basins. Elsewhere in south central and southeast Idaho the snowpack was 57 to 81 percent of median, decreasing to 33 to 49 percent of median in the Owyhee and Bruneau Basins in southwest Idaho. Daily snowpack readings indicate record low levels for a handful of SNOTEL locations in southern Idaho.  Mountain snowpack in Idaho typically builds through March. Early April snow conditions will be pivotal to water supply conditions through the summer.  23

Reservoirs

Reservoir storage across Idaho is in good shape. Major reservoir systems across the northern half of the state were holding near average or above average storage as of February 1. Across the southern half of the state, with the exception of Brownlee at 85 percent and Mann Creek at 45 percent of average, most major projects had well above average storage which is great news considering the below average snowpack in many basins. Weather patterns, irrigation demand, and flood control needs will drive reservoir operations over the next several months. Wet spring weather or extended periods of above normal temperatures resulting in rapid snowmelt could result in significant increases in reservoir outflows and river levels.

Drought

After record setting precipitation and snowpack last year, abnormally dry conditions have returned to portions of west central and southern Idaho. Weather and precipitation for the remainder of winter and this spring will determine whether or not conditions improve or deteriorate for areas experiencing short term dryness. Good reservoir carryover will help ease drought concerns for those served by major storage projects.

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Long Range Outlook

The outlook through the end of February favors below normal temperatures and normal or below normal precipitation for the state. The outlook for March, April, and May favors below normal temperatures for the Panhandle, and above normal temperatures across far southern Idaho. The precipitation outlook for March, April, and May slightly favors wetter than normal conditions for the Panhandle, but does not shift the probabilities one way or another for the rest of the state.

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Water Supply Forecast

National Weather Service April through September water supply volume forecasts vary from 90 to 135 percent of average for most of the central Idaho mountains and north across the Clearwater and Panhandle regions. In southern Idaho, forecasts for the Big Lost Basin, the mainstem Snake River and tributaries above American Falls range from 80 to 125 percent of average, with the exception of Willow Creek near Ririe with a forecast of 38 percent of average. Forecasts for the rest of southern Idaho range from 39 to 73 percent of average with the lowest percentages in southwest Idaho. These forecasts may change considerably over the next couple of months since seasonal snow accumulation and rainfall typically occur during February, March, and April.

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Online Resources

Water Supply Volume Forecasts…
National Weather Service-Northwest River Forecast Center www.nwrfc.noaa.gov/ws/

National Weather Service-Colorado Basin River Forecast Center
www.cbrfc.noaa.gov/

USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service
www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/id/snow/

Snowpack Information…

National Weather Service-Northwest River Forecast Center
www.nwrfc.noaa.gov/snow/

National Weather Service-National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center
www.nohrsc.noaa.gov/

USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service
www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/id/snow/

Reservoir Storage…
Bureau of Reclamation Reservoir Storage
www.usbr.gov/pn/hydromet/select.html

USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service
www.wcc.nrcs.usda.gov/basin.html

Drought Information…
U.S. Drought Portal
www.drought.gov

U.S. Drought Monitor
www.droughtmonitor.unl.edu/

National Drought Mitigation Center
www.drought.unl.edu/

Peak Flow Forecasts…
Northwest River Forecast Center
www.nwrfc.noaa.gov/peak/

Colorado Basin River Forecast Center
www.cbrfc.noaa.gov/rmap/peak/peaklist.php

Temperature and Precipitation Outlook…
Climate Prediction Center
www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/

Winter 2016 and Spring 2017 Flood Summary

This past winter and spring had its share of flooding across southeast Oregon and southwest Idaho.  Not only did spring runoff bring flooding to rivers and streams, but ice jams and snow melt caused flooding during the winter as well.  The stage was being set for an active spring flood season as far back as October 2016, when 150 to 400 percent of normal precipitation occurred across much of the region which moistened the soil profile.  The winter storm track brought well above average snowfall to most of southeast Oregon and southwest Idaho, with extreme snowfall across lower valleys.  A relatively cool and wet early spring was the final piece of the puzzle to ensure abundant spring runoff.  An indicator of how wet this past winter and spring have been, water supply forecasts for the April through September period rank in the top 10 for most of southeast Oregon and southwest Idaho, dating back to 1970.  Additionally, all major reservoir systems either have filled or are expected to fill.  Record high precipitation was seen across many areas from December 2016 through June 2017, shown in the figures below.

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The map below shows March 1 snow pack along with areas where flooding had a significant impact.

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Although the threat of snow melt flooding has diminished, summertime thunderstorms can pose a serious flood risk.  Areas of steep terrain and areas burned by wildfire are at particular risk for flash flooding due to thunderstorms.  For flood safety information, visit http://www.floodsafety.noaa.gov/.  For the latest river conditions, see http://water.weather.gov/ahps2/index.php?wfo=boi.

Idaho Spring Flood and Water Resources Outlook – Mar 1, 2017

The potential for spring flooding due to snowmelt in 2017 is well above average across most of southern Idaho. Meanwhile, the spring flood potential is about average for northern Idaho. One thing to remember is that swe31mountain snowpack in Idaho generally peaks in early April, leaving several weeks to add to our snowpack and the flood potential.

The storm track through the winter has been very favorable for southern Idaho, resulting in an exceptional snowpack across the southern half of the state. Relatively warm weather accompanied by rain in February caused much of the snow in the lower valleys of southern Idaho to melt. However, substantial low elevation snow remains across portions of south-central and eastern Idaho. Additionally, well above average mid and high elevation snow exists across southern Idaho with a number of SNOTEL sites measuring record or near record snowpack. Across the northern half of Idaho, snowpack is near average.

The primary factors in the development of spring flooding are the occurrence of persistent above normal temperatures, and rain on snow precipitation events. Even for areas that have low snowpack, spring flooding is possible under the right scenario. Additionally, burn scars can have a significant impact on local flood potential during spring snowmelt.

Precipitation and Temperature

Water Year to date precipitation was above normal for almost all of Idaho. Percentages were highest in the Panhandle, Central Mountains, south-central and southeast regions, where 150 to 300 percent of average precipitation occurred. Lowest percentages in the state were across west-central and southwest Idaho at 100 to 130 percent of normal. Average temperatures have been average to below average across northern, and most of central and southwest Idaho. Across southeast Idaho, the average temperatures have generally been a little above average for the Water Year.

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Snowpack

As of March 1, snowpack was above median across southern Idaho with record or near record snowpack across much of south-central and extreme southeast Idaho. Percentages ranged from 157 to 192 percent of median in the Wood and Lost River Basins, Snake Basin above Palisades, Bear River, Raft River, Blackfoot, Willow, and Portneuf Basins. Elsewhere south of the Salmon River, basin percentages were generally 110 to 140 percent of median. Across the Clearwater, Spokane, and Panhandle Regions, snowpack ranged from 87 to 99 percent of median. Mountain snowpack in Idaho typically builds through March, and early April snow conditions will be pivotal to water supply conditions through the summer.

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Reservoirs

Basin-wide reservoir summaries as of March 1 indicate average to above average storage across most regions of Idaho. Large inflows on the Owyhee System in February boosted reservoir levels to 100,000 acre-feet above average. This was a welcome site after multiple years of drought and below average reservoir levels on the Owyhee System. Weather patterns and irrigation demand will drive reservoir operations over the next several months. With the exceptionally large snowpack across much of the south, above average reservoir outflows and high river levels are a good bet on rivers of southern Idaho this spring.

Drought

Abundant autumn rain and a good winter precipitation have erased drought conditions across the state according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor. Weather and precipitation through this spring will determine whether or not conditions continue to improve before heading into the warm and dry season. The U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook suggests that drought conditions are not likely to return to Idaho through the spring.

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Long Range Outlook

The outlook for March, April and May indicates equal chances of above normal, normal, or below normal temperatures across Idaho.  Probabilities slightly favor above normal precipitation during the period.

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Water Supply Forecasts

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National Weather Service April through September water supply volume forecasts vary from 115 to 225 percent of normal for the southern half of Idaho. Across the northern half of Idaho, percentages are generally 100 to 115 percent of average for the April through September period. These forecasts may change considerably over the next couple of months due to seasonal snow accumulation and rainfall that occur in March and April.

Resources

Water Supply Volume Forecasts…

National Weather Service-Northwest River Forecast Center www.nwrfc.noaa.gov/ws/
National Weather Service-Colorado Basin River Forecast Center www.cbrfc.noaa.gov/
USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/id/snow/

Snowpack Information…

National Weather Service-Northwest River Forecast Center www.nwrfc.noaa.gov/snow/
National Weather Service-National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center www.nohrsc.noaa.gov/
USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/id/snow/

Reservoir Storage…

Bureau of Reclamation Reservoir Storage www.usbr.gov/pn/hydromet/select.html
USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service www.wcc.nrcs.usda.gov/basin.html

Drought Information…

U.S. Drought Portal www.drought.gov
U.S. Drought Monitor www.droughtmonitor.unl.edu/
National Drought Mitigation Center www.drought.unl.edu/

Peak Flow Forecasts…

Northwest River Forecast Center www.nwrfc.noaa.gov/peak/
Colorado Basin River Forecast Center www.cbrfc.noaa.gov/rmap/peak/peaklist.php

Temperature and Precipitation Outlook…

Climate Prediction Center www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/

Wildfire Burn Scars are a Flood Risk Infographic

Wildfire Burn Scars are a Flood Risk

Heavy rain can produce flash floods, mudslides & debris flows over burned areas from wildfires.  Water repellent soils are formed when organic material such as trees, scrubs, plants and litter burn at high intensity (high temperatures), causing water repellent compounds to become vaporized which then condense on cooler soil layers below the surface, which prevents the soil from absorbing water after a fire. During heavy rains, water cannot penetrate water repellent soil layers, so it runs off like pavement which causes dangerous flash flooding, debris flows and mudslides.

Drought Level since 2000 across Idaho and Oregon

Drought levels across Idaho and Oregon have improved since the recent drought from 2014-2015.  Here a look at the amount of area affected by drought in Idaho and Oregon. The graphs depict the state percentage of area affected by drought. Data is courtesy of the United States Drought Monitor.

Cn_FLV_VMAAd-H-

Balloon Sighting over Boise

Did you notice a weird object in the sky during the evening?  It resembled a star in the early evening when stars aren’t usually present.  It was a balloon at 61,000 feet! These balloons belong to the Google Project Loon.  These balloons are visible on FlightRadar24.com with the HBAL callsign.

Balloon Tracking - Courtesy of FlightRadar24.com

Balloon Tracking – Courtesy of FlightRadar24.com

Meet and Greet: Idaho Transportation Department Avalanche Center

Avalanche in March 2014 which took 10 days to clean up.

Avalanche in March 2014 which took 10 days to clean up.

At some point or another, we’ve all had our travel plans affected by road closures due to avalanche concerns.  Within the Boise forecast area, those slated with making these decisions work for the Idaho Department of Transportation (ITD) Avalanche Center in Lowman, Idaho. The National Weather Service works closely with this office, providing up to date weather conditions for three locations highly susceptible to large natural avalanches (versus human-triggered avalanches).  We thought it would be fun to meet and greet the two permanent Avalanche Center employees, Bill Nicholson and Chantel Astorga, for some hands-on training in how their operations are conducted.


NWS forecasters Jay Breidenbach (green), Elizabeth Padian (red), Korri Anderson (grey), and Aviva Braun (green) gather for a photo with ITD Avalanche employees Bill Nicholson (Blue) and Chantel Astorga (Pink). Excitement was high after digging a snow pit on February 26th as part of the monthly snowpack evaluation process.

NWS: Good morning! Could you introduce your office to our readers?

Avalanche: Good morning! Well, our program began about 8 years ago after realizing the need for avalanche forecasters for Highway 21, in the Boise forecast area, and Highway 12, in the Missoula forecast area. These roads had been hit by avalanches before and had put many, including the ITD maintenance staff, in danger. We now provide avalanche susceptibility ratings to the ITD staff and close down roads when avalanche dangers are high. Both of us come from ski patrol backgrounds and have a lot of experience with avalanches and understand their dynamics greatly.

NWS: How do you maintain situational awareness of current avalanche conditions?

Avalanche: We go out into the mountains (on our skis!) to evaluate the strength of the snowpack every day! We are skiers at heart for sure.  Because we are out there every day, we have an idea of how much stress the snowpack can take.  We always go in pairs for safety’s sake. When conditions become critical, we go out in our trucks. Those are the days we are on the phone with your office the most!

NWS: What weather phenomena have the greatest impacts on avalanche conditions?

Avalanche: The biggest impacts to avalanche conditions are heat – the first warm day after we’ve been having precipitation is a really big stress, the first prolonged thaw– beginning at the start of that melting period until the water has made it all the way down to the bottom of the snowpack, and finally, during big precipitation events. In very general terms, big precipitation events are when we have more than an inch of water weight (as snow) – that’s when we have to do something. An inch of water weight as rain is a really big problem! But that’s rare here, luckily. The days we call your office frequently are when the rain-snow line is at a level that we’re not quite comfortable with. If the snow level stays at 5500 feet, we’re okay, but if it goes to 5800 feet that would really cause some issues.  Another factor that can greatly influence avalanche danger is wind, but in this area, we rarely get wind-driven avalanches. Every canyon has its own personality; we have gotten to know and understand this canyon pretty well, therefore, we can predict how it’ll behave with each incoming storm.

NWS: How many avalanches do we average per year here on Highway 21?

Avalanche: We average 30 to 40 avalanches per year, and these are the large, destructive kinds. We’ll have days where just everything goes. On those days, the highway is closed.

NWS: How does the NWS help your office achieve its goals?

Avalanche: In 2000, one of the foremost scientists based out of the avalanche center in Calgary, Canada, estimated that with an aggressive avalanche program, the number of road closures could be limited to 30 days per year.  Our current average is 15 days!  Every day, NWS provides forecasts for us so that we can be up to date and ready for incoming changes to the weather – whether it is warmth, rain, or snow.  Without your forecasts, the roads would be closed all of the time!  When we do decide to close the road, we try to give people at least 8 hours warning.  You guys make that possible because we’ll see the next system coming in your forecasts.  However, there are outliers to the 15-day road closure average.  For example, two years ago in March 2014, we had that massive avalanche cycle that took 10 days to clean up!

NWS:  How does your team conduct its monthly snowpack stress tests?

Avalanche:  Once a month, we do an evaluation of the snowpack within the same location at Banner Summit (7200 feet). We do this to see where the snowpack layers are located. As you know, without layers, there would be no avalanche danger. We dig a (new) pit in the snow each month with a smooth wall in which we can pick out the layers. When we think the snowpack is weak, we dig many pits to evaluate the spatial variability. Within the pit, we take the temperature every 10 cm to see if there is a gradient since that gradient drives changes in the snow.  A temperature gradient increases the snowpack weakness; without a temperature gradient, the snowpack is stronger. Another test we do is a hand hardness test which relates directly to strength. However, we try to evaluate the snowpack in a general sense and not get too caught up in the specifics of each layer because sometimes the specifics can just be distractions. The end goal is to evaluate whether the snowpack can handle 1 or 2 inches of water – what will its breaking point be?. The weight of precipitation is what stresses the foundation of the whole snowpack.  During a big event, snow density can change rapidly. Snowpacks are a super dynamic system and change constantly, much like weather! The thing is, we begin keeping track of weather conditions in detail November 1st, so if we are doing our job correctly, we aren’t going into the pit to discover the snowpack details – we are going into the snow pit to verify what we already know.

NWS: This has been super enlightening! Thank you for speaking with us.

Avalanche: Our pleasure.

 

Snow Profile

Snow Profile showing the snow layers and temperature versus snow depth.

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Monthly Snow Pit Profile showing snow showing snow crystals by depth and stability of snow by layer.