Forecasters Call for Snow, Increasing Avalanche Danger
by Samuel Adams
Feb 26, 2014 | 1364 views | 0 0 comments | 23 23 recommendations | email to a friend | print

TELLURIDE — Telluride can expect snow today and this weekend, said Grand Junction National Weather Service Forecaster Joe Ramey. 

“It looks like we’ll have a wet weekend,” Ramey said Wednesday. “There are a series of storms passing through from Thursday into next week, and it’s likely Telluride will get significant snow.” 

The first storm will produce three to eight inches of snow in the upper San Juans on Thursday and Thursday night, Ramey said. After a break on Friday, heavy snowfall is expected Friday evening through Saturday night, with well over a foot of new snow anticipated from the weekend storm. 

The coming storm is welcome news for the region’s skiers, as the snowpack in the San Miguel River region is 17 percent below normal compared with the 30-year average, Ramey observed. This snowpack deficit, he added, is abnormal in comparison with the rest of the state.

“Things to the south in Colorado are dry, with Highway 50 being the delineator,” said Ramey. “Southwest Colorado has below-normal snowpack. The Gunnison River Basin is just above normal, and the Upper Colorado River basin is 128 percent above, normal as well.” 

Jim Daniels, another forecaster at the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said that while March and April are typically wet periods of the year, bringing heavy snows to the San Juans, he doesn’t expect heavy snowfalls this spring. 

Ramey agreed with his colleague. “The outlook for March, April and May appears to show a tendency for dryer-than-normal conditions,” he said. “For the remainder of this month, we’ll see periods of precipitation move into Colorado. We’ll see chances of snow in the western San Juans. Looking at the 30-day outlook, things favor a drying period after the first week of March.” 

 

Watch Out Up There

Even though Telluride is facing a below-average year in terms of snowfall, Josh Hirshberg, backcountry avalanche forecaster for the San Juan region at the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, said avalanche danger is heightened throughout the region. 

“For the storm coming on Thursday, it’s hard to tell how it’ll affect the avalanche danger,” he said. “I do predict it won’t be enough to affect deeper layers. But it may result in small slides on the surface of the snow.” 

But if the storm on Saturday and Sunday brings, as anticipated, nearly a foot of snow, Hirshberg added, it could spell danger in some areas. 

“If we do get a foot or more with wind, we may start to see some avalanches running on deeper layers” which are especially dangerous to skiers, he said.

Hirshberg, who monitors a large portion of Colorado – from Telluride in the west to Lake City in the east, and south to the New Mexico border – observed a “very large” skier-triggered avalanche Monday afternoon in Telluride’s Bear Creek, on one of its westerly slopes. 

“The nature of the Bear Creek terrain is very avalanche-prone,” he said. “With enough snow by later in the weekend, we may see more slides like that.” 

But Tom Watkinson, director of public relations at the Telluride Ski Resort, said this weekend’s snowfall won’t impact the risk of slides in the majority of Telski’s in-bound terrain.

“It will affect our hike-to terrain,” he said. “High snow and winds can affect the conditions up there. But our ski patrol will take measures to make sure that all terrain is safe for the public to ski.” 

Still, said Hirshberg, the backcountry surrounding the Telluride region remains at risk for avalanches. 

“Sunny slopes have crusts right now, and new doesn’t bond well to that… Certainly any new snow will be falling on a variety of surfaces that it may not bond well to.” 

Snowpack, he added, is made up of a variety of layers that are formed over the history of the winter, from different storms and weather events. 

“It’s those differences in those layers that makes the snow unstable and so like right now, the snow that’s been sitting on the surface has been sitting there for more than a week, and it’s changed in a lot of ways…” 

Hirshberg’s avalanche forecasts, available on avalanche.state.co.us, say the northern and southern San Juans have a moderate – level two out of five – risk of avalanche danger. 

But, he said, this winter has been “somewhat average” in terms of number of recorded avalanches in the San Juans. 

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