Bridger Bowl Wet Slab, March 27, 2012
Many people that saw the photos of the avalanches from Bridger Bowl yesterday were probably scratching their heads, wonder why runs that were so skier compacted would slide. Thanks to the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center and Bridger Bowl Ski Patrol we now have some answers. This informative video discusses why such slides can occur. The sheer destruction is pretty incredible. Thanks to Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center and Bridger Bowl for such an informative video.
WATCH……SOMETHING TO KEEP IN MIND DURING SPRING WARM UP especially with the winter we’ve had in the San Juans. JR
I’m riding in the backseat of a vintage 1948 Buick RoadMaster running late for a flight at the Santiago airport. My head rings with a Pisco buzz, the result of a four hour lunch at the El Perón with an old friend. We reviewed lies and good times that we’ve shared while skiing the Rockies and Andes and in other adventures. In my mind I compare the old ride, belching out fumes and rattling down the highway to my old friend, Señor Tim Lane. Both genuine, classic originals…..
Peter Shelton second from right, enjoying lunch with old friends in Rio Blanco Chile……………………
We interrupt this Catalina Island coming-of-age trilogy to comment on the recent spate of avalanche deaths.
I wrote the news story this week about 18-year-old Norwood student Garrett Carothers, and it broke my heart. “Dear, sweet Garrett,” read the caption on a Facebook photo.
By all accounts Carothers and his snowmobiling friends and family were not behaving badly on Saturday when the last in line of their little motorized train was snuffed by an avalanche that released above them. They weren’t high-marking some wind-loaded, primed-to-slide alpine bowl. They were struggling in deep snow on a summer road and had decided to turn around. Too late, as it turned out. Innocents abroad.
Other accidents recently in the news revealed evidence of hubris. In November, there was famous skier, cliff jumper Jamie Pierre, ignoring all the classic signs of instability, including natural and triggered releases everywhere around him, to attempt a narrow, thinly covered chute at Snowbird before the ski area was open. The moving snow didn’t kill him, the rocks he bashed over did. He was beloved, too.
On Stevens Pass in Washington, a giant, unwieldy group of “experts and industry insiders,” 13 of them, decided to ski off the backside of the ski area immediately following a two-day, 26-inch storm that came with strong winds. They claimed they were using proper protocol – skiing one at a time, stopping in safe zones – but somehow five of them got caught by a monster slide. Three were buried and killed.
Then, there was Telluride’s own Nate Soules tragedy, though I don’t use that word. Soules chose to snowboard into Bear Creek, alone, on the first real powder day in a long time, with two inches of water and all of that attendant weight added to an especially rotten San Juans snowpack. He knew what he was doing. But he was blinded by what long-time avalanche forecaster Jerry Roberts calls powder shock. You’re not supposed to speak ill of the dead, but I was mad at him then, and I’m still mad. As a father and grandfather. Yes, as many have said, he died doing what he loved. But he also loved his wife and young son. What was he thinking?
I haven’t skied the backcountry for a few years now, after devoting the better part of the last 40 years to it. The reasons are complex and include two hip-replacement surgeries and the digging out, just before the first hip, of a friend who barely survived an avalanche on Red Mountain Pass. That friend was one of the most knowledgable and conservative wild-snow skiers I have known. His triggering a big slide, and getting tumbled and crushed blue by the weight of the snow on top of him seemed to prove the adage: that if you are out there enough, you will eventually get caught.
Chris Laundry observing avalanche mitigation on RMP. J. Roberts photo
WESTERN SLOPE – The Colorado River Basin is losing water at an ever-accelerating rate, and snow scientist Chris Landry wants people to know about it.
But spend a day with Landry, and you will accumulate more questions than answers: How much snow falls (or doesn’t); how dense and water-laden it is (or isn’t); and is there enough of it to reflect surface radiation back into the atmosphere and preserve it, or is it destined to continue to melt away earlier every coming year?
Each winter since 2003, Landry, the director of the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies, a research organization in Silverton, has been on the job at his two research plots, Swamp Angel and Senator Beck Basin, near the summit of Red Mountain Pass. Here, Landry digs over 100 snow pits over the course of each winter to observe the layers of dust that accumulate on this outlying garrison of Colorado mountain ranges.
J. Roberts photo Snow/Water equivalency scale
WESTERN SAN JUANS – As snow continues to fly across Colorado on a steady basis, bringing a sense of winter normalcy back to most areas, state snowpack levels have improved. But to realize an average end-of-season snowpack after a dismally dry start to the season, March needs to be a very, very snowy month.
“If you look where the statewide snowpack totals are right now, we are where we typically should be on February first. As snowpack levels go, we are kind of a month behind,” said Natural Resources Conservation Service Snow Survey Supervisor Mage Skordahl on Monday. “Currently we are at 77 percent average statewide, which is an improvement from 72 percent at the beginning of February. The percent of average snowfall needed next month (to get to 100 percent average) is 178 percent of average. We are still playing catch-up.”
After a high pressure ridge kept most of Colorado relatively dry in December and for the first part of January, the Pacific jet stream finally shifted southward and positioned itself over southern Wyoming and northern and Central Colorado, bringing precipitation to basins to the west of the Continental Divide. Relatively speaking, Colorado’s southern mountains had a better start to the winter than the central and northern Mountains. But as a typical La Nina precipitation and snowfall pattern returned to Colorado in January, the southern basins saw a significant decrease in precipitation.
Avalanche forecaster Jerry Roberts and I are riding in his orange welfare rig. We’re on our way to check storm boards for recent snow accumulation totals. It’s the middle of the night. Our tires leave tracks several inches deep. Snowflakes in the air stop, eerily, strobe-like, in each sweep of the yellow flossing light on the roof…..
“3-Mary-14, this is 3-Mary 51. Come in Doug.” ”Ya, Jerry, this is 14. I’m over in Ironton Park on my way up. It’s snowing pretty hard. Visibility is pretty poor. See you on the pass.”
“I’ve got a lot of respect for the plow drivers,” Jerry says working the defroster to keep the wipers from icing up completely. ”Man, that’s a lonely, hateful job. Ninety percent boredom and 10 percent terror.”
In early May of 1971, I was detailed to Silverton by the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR),University of Colorado with a purchase order and instructions to locate a house of suitable size to base an office and living quarters for an avalanche research project.
That night I stopped at the Grand Imperial to listen in on a busy town of 850 people supported by the employment of two large mines, the Sunnyside and Idarado. I wasn’t long on the bar stool before two fellows got up from a table and sandwiched me, right and left with the admonition from the big one on the right of ”We don’t allow no #$%&*! hippies in here”. Well, I was fresh from the hippie-cowboy wars of Gunnison County, so not too concerned. My hair and beard weren’t really that long and I was a bit older and sober, and after all was still running a bar of my own back in Crested Butte and felt at the time, those attributes along with carefully honed negotiation skills and perhaps friendly allies could save the day. But, the bartender didn’t look too supportive of customer immunity, and for that matter did the rest of the crowded place.
Hmm, this wasn’t looking good, so I stuck out a hand and introduced myself to Clayton Hadden and Marvin Blackmore. That worked for a minute. Then I said I was in town to run the logistics for an avalanche project. Thank goodness, the other guy at the table they’d just left hopped up and said to leave me alone: he’s heard about this deal and I was probably ok.
That was the first of many times Tuffy Foster, Colorado Highway Maintenance Foreman for Red Mountain and Molas Passes, was to contribute to the well being of the San Juan Avalanche Project. Then Marvin bought me the first of many beers we shared over the years.
‘RED MOUNTAIN PASS – CHIEF OURAY HIGHWAY: A History of Forecasting and Mitigation.’-Jerry Roberts-The Avalanche Review
Gary King photo
The Avalanche Review, February & April 2009
It’s anybody’s guess why forecasters do this job. It could be the smell of powder, throwing 50 pound shots from the helicopter, watching hard slab failure release energy over several alpine basins at once, or maybe just the company you keep.
Whatever the reasons, you get hooked on the excitement and the challenges of the job. It requires a lot of field experience (series of non-fatal errors), collection of empirical evidence, listening to your inner voice (intuition), and distilling all of the variables to reduce uncertainties until you can finally make a decision that you can live with. There are many truths to be learned. It’s no big mystery; you pay attention and do your work because you don’t want to be a victim of your own bad planning. It helps to be comfortable in the world of uncertainties.
The radio chattered with the “heads up” signal, and a few seconds later we heard the boom of the gun, and then the eerie sounding whistle of the bullet piercing the air. Then the second report of the charge exploding somewhere up in the cloud obscured ridge. We chatted nonchalantly–all of us had watched expectantly as round after round was lobbed into the paths near town with no result. Surely the first shot wouldn’t do anything here.
And then we saw it: the pristine white snow all the way across the starting zone appeared to be cracking like ice. I lifted my camera to my eye and started pushing the button over and over again as the huge slabs of snow succumbed to gravity and began moving down the mountain, then turning into a great white cloud, and then into a 100-foot high locomotive. It kept gathering speed, kept growing. When it was about halfway to the creek, I looked up from the camera’s viewfinder. The Prescott students are already in retreat, on the highway and moving tentatively toward the elusive safe zone. Only Roberts and I were still perched on the snow bank and he had a strange, elated, frightened look on his face.
I waited for him to say something, for him to utter some transcendent haiku about the beauty and the power of snow, about staring death in the face and laughing, about pisco, Chilean cantinas, orange welfare rigs, or that final , poignant look on an angry, disappointed lover’s face as she walks out the door for the last time.
But the haiku never came. The Zen in Jerry Roberts had vanished. All that remained was the redneck.
“RUN LIKE BASTARDS” he yelled, then jumped off the snow bank and sprinted up the road.
‘Snow & Avalanche Forecasting Education-Prescott College’–Jerry Roberts–The Avalanche Review, December 2002
The idea was birthed over a bottle of good pisco on a stormy January night in the early 80′s in Chattanooga, Colorado, just below Red Mountain Pass. Tim Lane was persuading David Lovejoy, jefe of Outdoor Education at Prescott College that he needed to give his winter mountaineering students, who were camped just outside the cabin door, something more substantial than a pinche three day search and rescue course.
The pisco was about finished when Lovejoy agreed that the college might be interested in a more structured avalanche program and if we were interested in developing one, a formal proposal should be sent. Surprisingly the proposal got written on the old typer and was shipped off into the Arizona desert. Over 25 years later the program is still alive…. ….
I finally contacted my old friend and NWS weather forecaster and guru, Joe Ramey at the Grand Junction, National Weather Service and asked him… “Joe, what’s going on with our San Juan mountain weather this season??”From: Joe RameyHappy New Year Jerry, that is if you can be happy with less snow. I wasn’t too worried through December when the pattern was overly amplified. With the big ridge offf the west coast the storms were diving due south through the inter-mtn west producing only light snow here in western Colorado. By Christmas we could see that pattern breaking down to a less amplified more progressive pattern with the storms tracking across the northern tier of states, which is typical of La Nina. Also January has a strong snowy climate signal under La Nina conditions. This held out hope for increased snowfall at least favoring the northern mtns. But that pattern devolved into this moderately amplified pattern with the ridge in the eastern Pacific again blocking us from the storm path.Now I am getting worrried with this pattern progged to persist for the next 10 days at least.Current Snotel sites are running roughly 60-70% of average for this date (Upper Rio Grand and Arkansas are still higher from the upslope events in Dec) ftp://ftp.wcc.nrcs.usda.gov/data/snow/update/co.txt and of course these percentages will be dropping significantly over the next week or more.The storm for Saturday is still only producing 1-3 inches in the mtns north of highway 50. The official 6-10 and 8-14 day forecasts reflect this pattern with increased probabilities of below normal precipitation. http://www.crh.noaa.gov/climate/main.php?type=outlook&page=temp_pcpn.php The longer Jan-Feb-Mar seasonal outlook still holds on to the La Nina pattern of increased snowfall across the north.Crossing all my appendages with hopes for a pattern change…before its too late!
A dust storm in Phoenix in July. Scientists say it is hard to gauge the cleanliness of Western air.
DENVER — Oh say, can you see across the Grand Canyon? Not as well as you used to on some days.
The question of how clean the air is in the American West has never been an easy one to answer, strange to say. And now scientists say it is getting harder, with implications that ripple out in surprising ways, from the kitchen faucets of Los Angeles to public health clinics in canyon-land Utah to the economics of tourism.
It is at least partly about dust, something that has been entwined with Western life for a long time, and now appears to be getting worse.
But now a new and even more complicated chapter appears to be unfolding, researchers in many different fields say. From off-road vehicle use, which has in some places replaced the clumping trod of the old cattle herds, to drought’s impact on plants with their soil-anchoring roots, more dust appears to be up and moving.
And scientists say they are also understanding for the first time the deep connections between the dust’s main source — a vast high-desert region called the Colorado Plateau, which stretches through four states and is home to national parks like the Grand Canyon and Arches — and the economic, environmental and demographic life in cities and suburbs far removed.
In the last few years, winter dust storms on the high peaks of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado have sharply increased in number, affecting the rate of melting snows into the Colorado River, a main source of water for agriculture and for the drinking supply for more than 20 million people. Of 65 so-called dust-on-snow events since 2003, when tracking began, 32 have struck in just the last three years, according to the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies, a nonprofit research group based in Silverton, Colo. Dust can accelerate how fast snow melts because it absorbs heat.
“It’s not a mysterious process,” said Chris Landry, the organization’s executive director. “Anybody who has thrown coal dust on their driveway or sidewalk to melt it down knows the theory.”
EL NIÑO/SOUTHERN OSCILLATION (ENSO) DIAGNOSTIC DISCUSSION issued by CLIMATE PREDICTION CENTER/NCEP/NWS 8 December 2011
ENSO Alert System Status: La Niña Advisory Synopsis: La Niña is expected to continue through the Northern Hemisphere winter 2011-12.
During November 2011, below-average sea surface temperatures (SST) associated with La Niña conditions continued across the eastern and central equatorial Pacific Ocean (Fig. 1). The recent weekly SST indices in the Niño-3.4 and Niño-3 regions maintained levels near –1.0°C (Fig. 2), indicative of weak to moderate La Niña. The oceanic heat content (average temperature in the upper 300m of the ocean, Fig. 3) weakened slightly, but still indicates a large area of below-average temperatures at depth in the eastern Pacific (Fig. 4). Also reflecting La Niña, the atmospheric circulation over the global tropics featured anomalous low-level easterly and upper-level westerly winds in the central and west-central Pacific. Averaged over the month, convection was suppressed near and just west of the Date Line and enhanced over northern Australia and parts of Indonesia (Fig. 5). Collectively, these oceanic and atmospheric patterns are consistent with the continuation of La Niña conditions.
A majority of the models predict a weak or moderate strength La Niña to continue through the Northern Hemisphere winter (Fig. 6) and then gradually weaken after peaking during the December – January period. The models are roughly split between those that predict La Niña to remain weak (3- month average in the Nino-3.4 region between -0.5 and -0.9°C) and those that predict a stronger episode. Over the last half-century, La Niña events that were preceded by ENSO-neutral conditions during the Northern Hemisphere summer (May-August) were less likely to attain strong amplitude (stronger than – 1.5°C) the following winter. This observation, in combination with the model forecasts, favors a weak- to-moderate strength La Niña during the Northern Hemisphere winter, likely weakening with the onset of northern spring.
During December 2011 – February 2012, there is an increased chance of above-average temperatures across the south-central and southeastern U.S. below-average temperatures over the western and north-central U.S. Also, above-average precipitation is favored across the northern tier of states, excluding New England, and drier-than-average conditions are more likely across the southern tier of the U.S. (see 3-month seasonal outlook released on 17 November 2011).
This discussion is a consolidated effort of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NOAA’s National Weather Service, and their funded institutions. Oceanic and atmospheric conditions are updated weekly on the Climate Prediction Center web site (El Niño/La Niña Current Conditions and Expert Discussions). Forecasts for the evolution of El Niño/La Niña are updated monthly in the Forecast Forum section of CPC’s Climate Diagnostics Bulletin. The next ENSO Diagnostics Discussion is scheduled for 5 January 2012. To receive an e-mail notification when the monthly ENSO Diagnostic Discussions are released, please send an e-mail message to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
ENSO is predicting warmer temperatures and less precipitation for the southern tier states (that’s us, especially south of I-70 in Colorado) through February. JR
Hwy. 550 Corridor Weather Station Website Now Working–SOMETIMES–keep the faith, they’ll figure it out..
This website is under WEATHER LINKS as Index of Weather Stations on therobertreport. Great asset to use before heading up the pass or anywhere in Colorado… Abrams/Eagle/Kendall/Molas html are the stations along the 550 corridor.
Billions of tons of dust blow off of arid lands every year — and blow around the world. These dust storms make people sick, they kill coral reefs and they melt mountain snow packs.
In the Southwestern United States, dust storms are largely the result of tires and hooves, which are destroying natural biological barriers that once kept dust on the ground. But there are people studying, and trying to protect, the layer that can protect the planet from dust storms.
Jayne Belnap is one of those people. She’s an ecologist, and you might call her Doctor Dust. She works for the U.S. Geological Survey in Moab, Utah. Recently, she gave Colorado dust researcher Thomas Painter a tour of the red-rock desert she calls home.
Welcome to SnowCrystals.com! This site is all about snow crystals and snowflakes — what they are, where they come from, and just how these remarkably complex and beautiful structures are created, quite literally, out of thin air.
Dark-colored dust that settles on snow in the Upper Colorado River Basin makes the snow melt early and robs the Colorado River of about 5 percent of its water each year, says a new study co-authored by researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder-based Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, or CIRES.
‘Seeing Red’, by Amy Irvine McHarg—Patagonia Catalogue—Winter 2011—An Essay on Snow & Water In The Headwaters Of The San Juans—JR
The sky is falling. Particle by red, raw particle. And it’s falling on some of the world’s best snow.
Dust from the deserts of the American Southwest – Mojave, Sonoran, Great Basin and Chihuahuan – is getting scooped up in spring gales charging fresh off the Pacific. The airborne grit gets hurled across the western states before it is plastered onto the gleaming white snowfields of southwest Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. Home to the sweet and steep slopes of Telluride. To the frozen, front-pointable waterfalls of Ouray. To bluegrass fests, meadows of mushrooms, cannabis cafés and robust herds of elk. The effect is dizzying. Because these mountains, a rugged and rarified range where 14,000-foot, incisor-like peaks gnaw at an endless, crystalline sky, loom so large. On the horizon. In the psyche. To see iconic monoliths like the San Juans in such an altered state of color is sort of like having seen Marilyn Monroe after she had dipped her head in a bowl of henna.
Red Mountain Pass Avalanche Forecaster Interview by Colorado Public Radio News, 2003—Ancient history…..
Jerry Roberts of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center in Silverton talks about predicting avalanches in order to save lives on Highway 550 in the San Juan Mountains.
The day began on a sub-zero morning before dawn in the fluorescent-lit Silverton field office of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC). Despite the deluge of wind, moisture and barometric pressure data trundling across the computer monitor, there was no snow predicted to tumble from the icy skies that day, nor in the days ahead.
Most of us sat around scratching our heads when the last storm cycle failed to deliver Telluride the multiple feet of snow that landed elsewhere in the San Juan Mountains. Pineapple express? La Niña? An east-west valley instead of southwest-facing orientation?
The Avalanche Review, April 2010
Speed Miller “Drivin’ the bus..”
J. Roberts photo
Senior guide Speed Miller, who has been out on skis almost every winter day these last 28 years, had never seen an avalanche that high on the pitch before. The slope angle at the fracture line was only 29 degrees. Steep enough to slide, obviously, but significantly shallower than the most common failure angle of 38 degrees.
“We knew there were little pockets of tension in the snow,” Miller told me. They had, in fact, bombed this very slope the previous week with a five- pounder without results. Hard slabs, which form from densely-compacted, wind-driven snow, are notoriously difficult to gauge. They may be hidden under layers of softer snow. They may be stable enough to support Hannibal’s elephants. They may be as brittle as a hair trigger.
The Avalanche Review, December 2006
In 1971, the BLM funded a study by the University of Colorado’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR) to learn about the behavior of snow and avalanches. The so-called San Juan Avalanche Project brought to sleepy Silverton an all-star team in the then relatively new world of American snow science.
This past October, at the biannual International Snow Science Workshop, hosted in Telluride, many of those heavy hitters—some of them since ascended to legendary status—gathered around a dinner table for an informal reunion.
State highway avalanche forecaster Jerry Roberts organized the dinner. Jerry and his buddy Tim Lane were the last INSTAAR observers, hanging on into the mid-1980s. For a few years they were the only residents of snow-bound Chattanooga, battling packrats, drinking in Silverton when they could, collecting data at “the office” on Red Mountain Pass, and pioneering many of the area’s powder lines.