Look out for wet and loose snow slides in the backcountry
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — Warm winds Tuesday were strong enough to blow grocery carts to and fro in the Safeway parking lot, and also ate into the lower elevation snowpack at a rapid rate. As the wind flowed down the east slope of the Rockies, it dried out and warmed up even more, leading to an all-time record high of 81 degrees at DIA yesterday. Albuquerque, New Mexico also set a record high of 82 degrees.
Warm weather will continue Wednesday under partly cloudy skies, with highs easily reaching into the 40s in most Summit County locations. Winds will range from 15 to 25 MPH with gusts into the 50 MPH range before things start to cool down Thursday with a Pacific storm system rolling in out of the southwest.
The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning for the mountains to the west of Summit County beginning at 12 p.m. Wednesday, calling for accumulations of 8 to 16 inches, but areas favored by a southwest flow will get the brunt of the storm, at least until winds shift to a more northwesterly direction after the low pressure system moves east of the area.
Snow will start in the San Juans by Wednesday afternoon and spread across the rest of the mountains by late Thursday, but accumulations will probably stay on the light side locally, with only a few inches expected by the end of the day Thursday. The end of the week and first part of the weekend could also be unsettled under a strong westerly flow.
The warm weather continues to raise concerns about loose and wet snow avalanches in the backcountry. The overall avalanche danger is moderate, with pockets of considerable danger on slopes facing northwest through southeast, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. Slopes around rock outcrops and cliffs are especially suspect.
At higher elevations, there are pockets of considerable danger (where triggered slides are possible to probable) in wind-loaded terrain, including gullies and concave terrain features.
Don’t let your guard down. Check in with the CAIC online or call the local hotline at (970) 668-0600 for the latest updates.