Tahoe’s backcountry avalanche threat down following storm lull
February 25, 2016
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — Spring will be in the air this weekend throughout the Tahoe region, rewarding skiers and snowboarders with sunny skies and warmer temperatures.
As a result, backcountry users should look for spring-like conditions across much of the Sierra Nevada with temperatures forecast to reach above freezing even at higher elevations Saturday and Sunday.
After a consistent avalanche threat with recent storms, the snowpack had an opportunity to settle, according to Sierra Avalanche Center forecasters. But prospective backcountry users should still be cautious, especially in late afternoon on southern facing slopes with significant sun exposure.
"Skiing below tree line has been excellent," Sierra Center forecaster Steve Reynaud said.
Earlier in the week, however, significant large, wet avalanches were reported above tree line due to a rain layer in the snowpack. While wet slides are typically more common later in spring, the end-of-January storm that brought rain to higher elevations created some concern.
"These avalanches were happening on a bunch of different aspects," Reynaud said. "Some of the biggest ones were running about 1,400 feet on this Jan. 29 rain crust."
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Though significant danger has subsided, forecasters have left the threat at moderate — Level 2 on their five-tiered scale — meaning human-triggered slides remain possible on steeper slopes.
Speaking to the rain layer in the snowpack, Reynaud said, "It's not a problem for today or tomorrow or even next week, but could be in the future."
Reynaud suggested using spring travel approaches through the weekend and into next week. With freezing temperatures forecast each night, the chance for wet slides may arise later in the afternoon on slopes with sun exposure. Northern aspects will be less affected.
"In the morning hours things are going to be much safer," Reynaud added. "You'll begin seeing small signs to start with."
As the snowpack warms, small "roller balls," or small rolling pieces of snow, will begin to give an indication of slide potential. Fortunately, a wet slide threat increases more gradually than other colder temperature avalanche threats.
"There's plenty of signs you'll see before larger things start to happen," Reynaud said.
Overall, with snowpack levels at 120 to 130 percent of average, backcountry users have seen a long awaited return to promising ski conditions so far this winter.
"We're doing quite well," Sierra Center forecaster Andy Anderson said. "There's good snow to be had in the right places. We're doing much better than we have in the last three years."
Still with lower risk, he cautioned, "The same processes, the same strategies, still apply. You want to be paying attention to the forecast. Tailor your travel plans to conditions."
More information is available at http://www.sierraavalanchecenter.org.
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