High weekend winds built potentially fragile slabs at higher elevations; highway safety crews trigger 8 slides on Loveland Pass
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — The weekend storm has moved off to the east, but a lingering northwest flow will fuel at least a few on-and-off showers through Tuesday before high pressure brings at least a few days of dryer weather and a gradual warming trend in the second half of the week.
Temperatures will run a few degrees below average the next few days, with highs in the low to mid-30s through mid-week, possibly warming back to near 40 degrees by Friday, and overnight lows in the teens.
The heaviest snowfall during the weekend was in the Steamboat zone and especially around Rabbit Ears Pass, where up to 16 inches of snow fell. Grand Mesa, near Grand Junction, and parts of the West Elks, also picked up decent snowfall totals, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
Lesser amounts were reported in the Summit-Vail zone, with 48-hour storm totals including 7 inches at Copper Mountain, 6 inches at A-Basin, 4 inches atBreckenridge, 3 inches at Keystone and 11 inches just across the Continental Divide at Loveland.
The wind was the big story, with gusts of 115 mph near Frisco and up to 100 mph at Loveland Pass. There was enough snow to build up a significant load of slabs. The avalanche center reports that CDOT used explosives to trigger eight slides on the Pass Sunday morning, with slabs between one and three feet deep fracturing near treeline and running on north-facing slopes.
Though the center hasn’t started zone-specific forecasts yet, the daily update notes that backcountry travelers can expect similar slab formation statewide. In many areas, the fresh slabs are sitting on weak layers of faceted snow. A list of reported avalanches so far this season is online at this CAIC web page.
The avalanche center is warning backcountry skiers and riders to be aware of potential early season side risks:
“Specific areas to watch are high elevation north through east aspects. These aspects hold the most snow and the current snowpack foundation is weak. New snow and wind-blown snow will quickly add a fresh load on top. Be especially careful in cross-loaded terrain. Gulleys and couloirs which hold more snow look enticing, but these locations are most susceptible for slides as storm snow loads into these areas with the ongoing moderate to strong winds.”
Filed under: avalanches, climate and weather, Colorado, Snow and weather, Summit County snow and weather Tagged: | backcountry avalanche danger, Colorado, Colorado Avalanche Information Center, Colorado weather, Loveland Pass, Rabbit Ears Pass